wavetale (switch) reivew

A bit like Wind Waker meets a 3D platformer.

One of the most important ingredients in making a narrative adventure game engaging is providing a world the player enjoys simply existing in. Beyond telling a compelling story, the world itself is crucial for ensuring that the moments between major plot points are punctuated with memorable experiences for the player. Wavetale nails this element perfectly. Simply moving through the world of Wavetale, surfing the ocean and launching through the air, is captivating. This serves to elevate the experience from good to truly great.

Wavetale takes place in a post apocalyptic world that is almost entirely flooded and covered in a dangerous smog. A few isolated lighthouses powered by a resource called spark are seemingly all that is holding back the encroaching smog and allowing the world’s surviving inhabitants to live their lives. You play as Sigrid, a young girl living alone on one of these lighthouse islands with her grandmother. When Sigrid meets a strange creature that serves as a physical reflection for her underwater, she finds herself able to run, jump, and surf on the surface of the ocean. With water no longer serving as a barrier, Sigrid is free to explore the world, help people, and seek out information about her own parents and the world before the flood.

Wavetale takes place across a single large map. As you manage to clear smog, more and more of the map will open up for you to explore. This isn’t necessarily an open world, as your lighthouse island serves as a central hub from which paths through the smog open up in a linear fashion. However, by the end of the game you’ll have a lot of world open to you, with plenty of sidequests to uncover. The general gameplay loop amounts to searching out sparks to power a lighthouse and clear an area of smog, before traveling into the newly opened area to help the inhabitants there with whatever trouble they’re facing. This usually involves a lot of 3D platforming up to the top of islands and ruins dotted across the sea. A lot of this platforming is built around the idea of using your net to grapple onto specific points. Some of these simply act as anchor points from which to jump or grapple to another spot, while others will send you launching into the air. You’ll also encounter plenty of these points out in the open water, which will sometimes factor into time trial-based side objectives. Collectibles can also be gathered as you explore which allow you to buy alternate cosmetic items for Sigrid. None of these have an actual effect on gameplay, but they’re a fun bonus if you’re someone like me who can’t help but pick up everything in a 3D platformer. That said, the most enjoyable part of Wavetale’s movement systems is simply gliding along the surface of the water. There isn’t anything particularly complex or nuanced to this mechanic; it’s simply satisfying. That is, overall, something Wavetale seems to grasp quite well: that deep complexity is not required for something to be fun.

Of course, the one downside to this focus on simplicity is that gameplay can occasionally feel repetitive. This is most obvious in combat encounters. Enemies are hardly ever an actual threat, with the vast majority going down after two hits. Combat feels somewhat tacked on as a result. It lacks the fun fluidity of the rest of the gameplay systems and more just serves to slow down platforming. The occasional boss encounter is the exception, though. These almost always make legitimate use of the movement systems to heighten encounters. You may need to race to the top of a structure as an enemy fires on you, or grapple your way up the enemy itself to reach an elevated position. A greater focus on encounters like these rather than the traditional enemy encounters could have benefited the combat gameplay greatly.

The Switch version in particular largely translates well. The game’s cell shaded art looks very crisp both docked and handheld, though a pass of anti-aliasing would do wonders for the docked experience. Ambient occlusion is also missing compared to other versions of the game, though given the cell shaded art style, it manages to look pretty good without it. The art in general looks great, with the shader used for the ocean being especially nice. Characters all feature hand drawn and animated facial features which, while compression artifacts are obvious in close ups, look great in well animated cutscenes. The only other technical point worth noticing is that some of the more ambitious boss encounters can come with some extended frame rate drops. While most of the game runs fine, these instances are very noticeable.

Wavetale provides a compelling, accessible world that is enjoyable to simply wander around in. Zipping over the surface of the water as you go from island to island is effortlessly fun. While many of the lesser combat encounters can feel repetitive and somewhat meaningless they’re punctuated by some much more compelling boss battles. The characters are charming and learning more about Sigrid and the world around her is legitimately engaging. While a few technical hiccups trip up select areas, the net experience as a whole is one of the more legitimately fun and unique games I’ve played through this year.


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