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New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (Switch) artwork

New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (Switch) review

"New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers gets the job done, but it doesn't have a lot of fun doing it."

If I lived in the world depicted in New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers, I would leave my tiny house on a nature walk and I would inevitably run into a bear or boar. Luckily, I would be armed with a shotgun. Less fortunately, I would proceed to shoot the animal five or six times before it finally gored me or bit my head off. I would die a gruesome death, in other words, unless of course I brought my horse with me. In that case, my four-legged companion would box with the other animal and probably take it out before I got off more than two or three shots from my firearm.

Most everyone knows that the American frontier days were an exceedingly dangerous time, but they bore only vague similarities to the somewhat fanciful world depicted in New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers on the Nintendo Switch. The game asks players to manage a small village that might someday grow into a metropolis populated by 30 people or more, if only they can stretch their resources and survive in the face of the spectacular threat posed by tomorrow's bacon. Yes, I'm still harping on the boars. Seriously, they once razed an entire town of mine, and without provocation. I despise them.

New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (Switch) image

The game is divided among three modes, each one similar to the next. The ideal starting point is the Story mode, which begins with a helpful tutorial that walks the player through the game's general mechanics. "Story" events crop up along the way, but they're minimal and do a terrible job of inspiring any interest in what might happen next. Eventually, you either find out where the narrative was headed, or--perhaps after several hours of play--reach the dreaded "Game Over" screen and get to start fresh. If you prefer, you can instead play in the Survival mode, which lets you choose from several difficulty levels and trims out extraneous plot points. And finally, there is Free Play, which gifts you an endless supply of whatever Invention Cards you gained while playing in the other modes. Those cards can be used repeatedly to generate vital resources in a flash, so it's like you're playing an old PC game with every cheat activated. You won't earn any achievements while playing in that mode, but since no one else sees what achievements you have earned anyway, who cares?

When you first start in any of the modes, you have only a basic town hall that rests near the center of a randomly-generated map. A couple of pioneers mill about. From there, you are supposed to generate new pioneers and send them to find resources in the surrounding wilderness. After the settlers chop down some trees and mine a few rocks, you can use your acquired supplies to build simple facilities such as a sawmill or a stone quarry. You may also fish in nearby ponds, and cook what you catch on an open campfire. Each action requires a separate settler, and you must increase your population by building new homes for them. This necessary expansion increases the money and food you must spend at the annual festival, so it's important that you don't develop more quickly than is appropriate.

New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (Switch) image

As the game progresses, you advance through "ages," which don't change the look of the land but do add wrinkles. Festivals cost more money than they once did, for instance, and random events occur more frequently. After passing to the second age, the aforementioned bears and boars become a regular part of your life, which makes it difficult to find resources because bears might attack and kill your settlers. But you really have no choice, so the game settles into a loop where you struggle to generate resources faster than you spend them, while dealing with bears almost every time you turn around (fortunately, your settlers do eventually find better weapons and training, but never to the point where an animal attack is a complete non-issue). You have to keep this all up at a hurried pace, because there's a timer that never stops and you need to keep building newer and more complex buildings that improve your earning potential. If you don't advance through the ages quickly enough, after all, that's another good way to reach a "Game Over" screen.

New Frontier Days is simply too tedious for its own good. Though I spent quite a lot of time with the game, I enjoyed far too little of it. The game capably gets a person caught up in the process of settling, but that process isn't actually much fun. For one thing, the visuals are too generic to serve as a visual reward. As you advance through the ages, your town never quite looks attractive. The uglier it looks, for that matter, the better it seems to perform. So the main thrill as you survive and potentially flourish is the knowledge that you dodged another bullet and can keep juggling resources for another few virtual years.

New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (Switch) image

While the game's aesthetic was disappointing, though, I felt it at least worked better than the cumbersome interface. You can play in handheld mode, or even let it run on your TV and use a Pro controller. Either way, there are too many menus to access and too many steps to complete along the way, just to perform the simple tasks that routinely fill your time.

For example, suppose you want to build a structure. You have to select the Build option, then choose the desired structure, then place it. However, the structure won't build itself. That would be too easy. You next have to scroll around to find (or press the L and R buttons to cycle between) your pioneers. Select one who isn't otherwise engaged and have him or her wander over to the construction site. The building process begins, and a meter slowly fills. Once the meter is full, the settler slowly exits.

Building is just the beginning, though. You can then select the settler again, and direct him or her to enter the building. Then you have to select the building, then the settler, and choose whether you want your eventual directions to occur just once or on a recurring basis. Next, you should select the actual command (such as cutting logs apart to make lumber, or selling lumber at the market for gold). From there, in the example of a sawmill, you have to select how many pieces you want to mill or sell, and then you can finally confirm that everything is as desired and the process will begin. If you indicated that it should play out on a recurring basis, it will loop until the desired resource is exhausted. Then your settler will stand around doing nothing, even if more units of the required resource arrive a few seconds later. So you get to repeat much of the process all over again. And as your town grows to meet the demands of later ages, you might eventually need to direct 20 or 30 settlers, while their actions bring up a bunch of prompts to let you know that you have gained additional cards that must then be manually selected and used when you feel the time is right.

New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers (Switch) image

New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers amounts to a lot of busy work, whether you're tapping on the screen with a finger or directing a cursor with the controller. The process never feels intuitive, and it only makes sense late in the game, when the interface must suddenly accommodate a greater variety of options.

If you want to play a simulation/tycoon game for the Nintendo Switch, New Frontier Days: Founding Pioneers is currently your best option, simply by virtue of the fact that it's also your only option. If the system sees proper support in coming months, though, that situation won't persist. And whatever comes next has a decent shot at providing at least an equally satisfying experience, if not a far better one. I'm not just saying that because of the boars and bears, either.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 26, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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hastypixels posted March 26, 2017:

Good gravy, it sounds absolutely tedious. Isn't automation one of the perks of gaming? It seems as though what should be a PC port has landed on the Switch, complete with click heavy gameplay.
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honestgamer posted March 26, 2017:

I'm not sure there's a platform around that (not even PC) would perfectly handle the flow of the game and its needs for constant management. Touch screen controls are available on Switch, and they should have remedied some of the issues, but they really didn't. It's just an awkward design. And I know both PC and consoles are capable of better. In the case of the latter, for instance, there is Dawn of Discovery, which on DS and Wii was thoroughly enjoyable and considerably less clunky.
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CasydieAnne posted March 26, 2017:

Hello Finally im here. Yes im a first time here. I am Casydie Anne Evangelista. Hope to Understand all this game about Soon. Thanks! :)

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