Game Review #258: Windscape (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B.
Developed By: Magic Sandbox Published By: Headup Games Category: Adventure, Action, Role-Playing, Puzzle Release Date: 03.27.19
Price (At Time of Review): $19.99
Buy Windscape from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
On the Steam page for Windscape, Dennis, the developer, gives a heartfelt explanation of what inspired him to make a game. He grew up playing games that let their players explore fantastic worlds at their own pace. He specifically mentions the Zelda series and Secret of Mana as inspirations, which happen to be games I hold in high regard as well. It’s a story that makes you really want to like a game, to make a deeper connection with a piece of art created by an artist who shares your values and inspirations. Unfortunately, for all its good intentions, Windscape is not a game that lives up to its creator’s ambitions.
It Starts With a Good Ida
Windscape’s story tries so hard to recreate the magic of its inspirations that it sadly falls into cliché territory pretty quickly. Much like Link in some of his adventures, a young girl named Ida lives a sheltered life on her family’s farm in a kingdom made of floating islands (OK, Link never lived on floating islands). While running a routine errand for her father, Ida gets caught up in a series of events that culminate in a struggle for the fate of the world. The sequence is pretty strange; she has to deliver a package to a blacksmith, who asks her to check on a miner friend of his, who asks her to clear a mine of bandits, and when she checks back in with the blacksmith, he refers her to a pirate who asks her to check out a mysterious crypt in the local cemetery. There she finds a captive prince, breaks his curse, and gets caught up in investigating the mysterious cause behind the destruction of the floating islands.
I guess I won’t spoil anything after that; the story did not capture my interest in any meaningful way. Ida is a blank slate in the bad way; her dialogue options are as simple as can be, building no personality for her or creating any type of engaging character arc for a player to invest themselves in. The writing style itself is fairly dull to boot, and often suffers from awkward phrasing or sentence structure. I try not to be too much of a grammar Nazi because lord knows I’ve had my share of typos and strained sentence structure, but Windscape made it tough to ignore.
Floating Around Dungeons
Windscape’s gameplay didn’t do much for me either. The game is played from a first-person perspective, a la the Elder Scrolls series, which is a good start. The maps and exploration areas are of a decent enough size early on, but the pacing of exploring the different islands becomes an issue once you leave the first one. NPCs and quests are unevenly spaced, making the world feel empty. The thing about exploration is there has to be something to find to make it worthwhile. The relatively lean variety of items in the game compared to other RPGs makes the payoff to most quests feel too repetitive. I explored another cave and found one more lump of ore? Great. Three more of those and I can forge a metal bar. Two more bars and I can make that shiny new sword… if I found multiple copies of two other rare ingredients. I guess you may have figured this out already, but I wasn’t impressed by Windscape’s crafting system all that much either. Every island introduces some new weapons or armor to craft, which is cool, but once you’ve crafted everything… that’s it. You’re just accumulating ingredients that you probably won’t use until the next island, or maybe ever.
After exploration and crafting, the other third of the Elder Scrolls gameplay formula is combat. The basic idea of combat is the same here; you swing your sword, block, fire arrows, or cast spells from a first-person perspective. Enemy AI isn’t that impressive; not that it is in ES either, but the slow pace of combat in Windscape makes things especially dull. I suppose the counterargument could be that Windscape swings its swords at a more realistic rate, but that doesn’t make it any more fun. Charging spells takes a few seconds, and you lose pretty much all mobility while doing so. The lack of customization afforded in creating your weapons hurts the game’s strategy as well; whereas selecting the right combination from a huge variety of enchantments, poisons, potions, and buffs adds a level of nuance to Elder Scrolls’ combat, Windscape’s relative lack of options once again proves shallow and uninteresting.
Craft a New Image
Graphically, I was torn by Windscape’s design. There were times when I’d run to the top of a hill and see a big, bright, colorful valley beyond, full of trees and huts and the promise of adventure. But then when I’d get up close, the graphical assets looked old and clunky. Character models are the clunkiest of all; all squares and flat surfaces trying unconvincingly to imitate something like life. I’ve seen some reviews comparing this game’s visuals to Wind Waker, but I don’t see it. Even on the Gamecube, WW had sharper, livelier models. The brightest spot of the game was its music; it successfully evoked feelings of adventure in the open world, the lively hustle and bustle of a port town, or the danger around every corner of a dungeon. It can’t save the whole experience, but it was a bright spot in a game experience that was too often dim.
When I saw Dennis’s story on Windscape’s Steam page, I was almost desperate to like the game. I don’t enjoy looking at another person trying to fulfill their dream and not being able to find anything to like. The story is uninspired and marred by a dull, inconsistent writing style. The gameplay takes the Elder Scrolls formula of explore/craft/fight and dumbs it down to a degree that leaves too little depth to satisfy players. The graphics are an uneven mix of bright, attractive landscapes and clunky, dull character models. I did enjoy the music, but that’s just not enough to save the experience. To Dennis, I can only say I’m sorry. I gave Windscape a fair shot.
Buy Windscape from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*Review Code Provided by VIM Global