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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (473)

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Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5
Mighty Switch Force! Co... 2.5/5
Aegis of Earth: Protono... 3/5
Torchlight III 2.5/5
Cyberpunk 2077 3.5/5

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World to the West   PC (Steam) 

Good ‘Zelda’ Vibes    4/5 stars

“World to the West” (“WttW”) is the second game by Norwegian Indie studio, Rain Games, which is better known for its ‘Teslagrad’ series of puzzle/platformers. Rain Games got its start way back in 2013, while “WttW” was released in 2017. I first became aware of “WttW” while watching some sort of Indie showcase that was NOT E3. It looked cute, colorful, and the combination of puzzles and top-down Action shown-off gave me strong ‘Zelda’ vibes… and with Nintendo doing its best not to emit ANY definitively ‘Zelda-ish’ vibes in recent memory, I’ve become all-too willing to give knock-offs a chance. I’m usually pleasantly surprised.

Presentation
“WttW” is built in the recently-troubled Unity Engine, and actually comes off significantly more polished than most Unity games. In general, the only Unity ‘quirk’ I could possibly complain about is the ugly title screen menu and hovering mouse cursor, but both are gone within moments of starting the game each time, and every other in-game menu asset looks fine, including the expansive world map. “WttW” is a colorful, cartoony-looking game, splashed with plenty of color and contrast in environments that run the gamut from above-ground ruins, forests, deserts, a town, and various underground caverns. Each area has its own unique look, and the world map is just big enough to keep things varied without padding or copy-pasted assets. Characters are likewise colorful and cartoony, but to my eye they don’t fare quite as well as the environments, with most of the game’s people (playable or otherwise) looking rather plasticine and dead-eyed. Indeed, only one of the playable characters has an appropriately expressive face – the strongman, Lord Clonington – while everyone else tends to look like they’re wearing Classical Grecian theater masks of their own faces.

Audio is well-done, though expectedly minimalist. The soundtrack is quite pleasant, with plenty of tunes to fit the varied environs and happenings. However, the game is almost completely un-voiced, with characters typically emitting only a handful of grunts, groans, or laughs in their own unique voices.

Technically, “WttW” is quite solid. As mentioned previously, in spite of being a Unity game – and only the second game from its development studio – the overall experience is quite polished. It never crashed, hitched, or experienced any sort of bad behavior during my playthrough. Likewise, it’s not lacking in any modern QoL features, including native Xinput support.

Story
I didn’t realize it when I purchased “WttW,” but apparently it’s a narrative sequel to Rain Games’ inaugural title, “Teslagrad.” While I do own “Teslagrad” (and “Teslagrad 2”) due to HumbleBundle, I haven’t played them, and have no idea what they’re about. “WttW’s” plot structure and character development are both lacking in such a way that I can’t help but think we, the players, are supposed to recognize these characters and know a bit of their backstory and world lore.

Regardless, “WttW” opens with a cutscene featuring a Teslamancer (a… wizard, I guess, who uses electric magic) named Lumina, who, through a mishap with some ancient Teslamancer ruins, ends up teleported to a far-away island.

The action then shifts to the perspectives of three other characters: A female adventurer named Teri, a child mine-slave named Knaus, and a fabulously-wealthy strongman (and apparent clone?) named Lord Clonington. While Teri is a native to the island where the game takes place, the other three characters – Lumina, Knaus, and Clonington – each arrive at the island through their own circuitous routes.

Regardless of their origins, all four of our heroes eventually make their way into some ancient ruins, here the meet a mysterious old woman with blue skin who informs them that they are destined to save the island from disaster (yay, how original). It turns out that the island is dotted with totem poles, each bearing 4 stacked heads that bear uncanny resemblances to our allies of convenience.

While each of our heroes has their own underlying motivations, they are forced to work together to prevent he richest man on the island from tracking down the command keys to an ancient Teslamancer weather machine and… messing up the island’s ecology… I guess.

The game’s villain does come off as a genuinely unlikable turd sandwich, but he’s also not around for far too much of the game’s runtime. Sub-villains are likewise poorly characterized and generally quite forgettable.

“WttW” is a fairly short game, clocking in at around 15-20 hours for a blind completionist run with all Achievements. However, I never felt bored while playing, and the experience left me wanting more.

However, the narrative pacing, storytelling, lack of originality, and vague character development left me wanting. Yeah, “WttW” at least tells a complete tale with a beginning, middle, and end. Yeah, it manages to give each of the four protagonists something to do, and even requires them to work together far more competently than, say, “Octopath Traveler,” but I just never felt ‘grabbed’ by any of the character arcs or the overall plot. It’s functional, but nothing to get excited about.

Gameplay
“WttW” is a throw-back Action/Adventure game that puts exploring its tightly-designed world at the core of the gameplay experience. Each of the four characters features a completely unique set of abilities that determines where they can travel and how they can get there. Lumina the Teslamancer has the ability to perform basic melee attacks and can dash across narrow gaps as a bolt of lightning, with later upgrades allowing her to shoot ball lightning orbs and even switch places with said orbs while in flight. Teri the Adventurer can… run kinda fast… while swinging her elbows like a Victorian track and field champion. She can also swing her long scarf like a whip to stun wildlife or grapple onto specific wooden poles. Teri’s upgrades include a hypnotic mask that allows her to control animals, gaining access to their movesets, and an animal-bag that she can use to scoop up smaller critters to deploy them elsewhere at will. Knaus the Miner has the ability to dig holes and tunnel into soft ground, avoiding danger in the process. His upgrades include ice skates (that generate their own ice) that allow him to traverse any and all bodies of water, and dynamite, which does what dynamite does. Lastly, Clonington the Strongman can perform a variety of boxing and wrestling moves in combat, as well as bull-rush at high speed, allowing him to clear narrow gaps and break down reinforced doors. He is also the only character who can climb up ledges. His upgrades generally just make him better at everything he starts off with, allowing him to climb higher ledges and punch cracked rocks into rubble.

Using their unique abilities, each hero must navigate from place to place, clearing obstacles for others, in order to track down the game’s handful main McGuffins, which are always clearly called-out on the world map. Hidden throughout the world, though, are a sizeable number of optional McGuffins, including heath upgrades unique to each character, and a collection of cryptic inscriptions that can be used to unlock doors in a completely optional dungeon.

I can’t overexpress just how well designed the game world is. While it is dotted with a large number of the afore-mentioned totem poles, which act as both save points and fast travel locations, each character must unlock each totem pole individually, which effectively means exploring the entire world map four times over, employing each character’s unique skills to unlock totem poles while scouring the world for those optional McGuffins. For those having trouble tracking down said McGuffins, there are also merchants scattered throughout the game who will sell ‘maps’ (really just waypoints) to the hidden inscriptions and health containers for an increasing amount of in-game currency. Unfortunately, buying maps is pretty much the only thing to do with in-game currency. Even more unfortunately, each character’s health upgrade maps are sold by a different NPC, with no indication of who they are or where to find them.

Overall, the only real negative thing about the gameplay is that there aren’t all that many seriously complex ‘dungeons’ in the game. Instead the overworld and underworld are connected through a large number of discrete routes, effectively turning the entire game world into one interconnected navigation puzzle. It’s a minor critique, but “WttW” left me wanting a sequel with more dungeons and more character upgrades.

Overall
“World to the West” is an immaculately well-designed Action/Adventure title that gives of traditional ‘Zelda’ vibes, while remaining unafraid of doing its own thing. The result is a puzzle-heavy, exploration-centric experience that allows for plenty of player freedom at the expense of feeling a bit aimless at times. Ultimately, though, the lack of narrative context is the game’s single largest flaw. Regardless of that, I recommend “WttW” to old-school ‘Zelda’ fans who want something different – but not too different from the classic Action/Adventure formula.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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