Updated: Jan 25, 2019
Developer: Greg Lobanov
I believe this is now the fourth game that I've reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed after learning about it through Dreamhack Austin 2018, so I might as well give a little shout-out to that convention and its Indie Playground. Wandersong is a musical puzzle adventure game, musical being the key word. You play as a young, naive bard (a poet or a lyricist) who faces all his challenges in the same way: by singing.
In Wandersong, it's made clear from very introduction that you are not the hero. You, the bard, are not the one who's meant to save the world from its impending destruction. Nonetheless, when the little bard learns that the world he knows is doomed, he is determined to save it. Regardless of the fact that he can't (and doesn't want to) wield a weapon and constant reminders that his quest is pointless, the bard marches (dances) on.
Despite the fact that your primary mission is to save the world against all odds, you make several stops along the way to play in a band, learn some dances, make some friends, teach some songs, drink some coffee, pet some dogs, talk to ghosts, and other important bard things.
Along the journey, you meet a quite a variety of memorable characters. This game was especially successful in not only making silly, lovable characters, but also in including all types of people and creatures, even in a fantasy-like world. It's honestly shocking how much story and personality there is to each and every character; it truly feels like everyone you meet serves some sort of purpose in your quest. As someone who thrives in exploring towns and talking to every single character, this took up a big chunk of my time. Many conversation were just completely loopy and funny, and kind of got me thinking real deep about life. Wandersong especially delivered with its main characters, namely, the bard and his traveling companion, Miriam the witch. Seemingly two opposites, they both grow in such real and emotional ways through their shared challenges and failures that they come to a certain common ground. Both are constantly fighting to disprove the negative expectations of themselves, and they slowly become each other's emotional relief and outlet for vulnerability. I love this relationship and it's a major part of why this game's story kept me hooked and, yes, full of feelings.
Wandersong ran a successful Kickstarter prior to launch, primarily to fund the music in this game. It absolutely shows, and it was definitely worth it. The music in this game is by Shell in the Pit, and the full soundtrack is actually so robust that it's split into 2 volumes plus one additional remix album. When reading their Kickstarter page, I was personally super excited to see that they were inspired by the music of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and I can definitely hear the influence. Sometimes singing is just the mechanic to get through a certain puzzle, but very often times you are composing and creating music along with the other characters. Even in those instances without any singing happening, the soundtrack is excellent and consistent; I definitely recommend checking out the soundtrack on Bandcamp.
For this game, I feel that videos are necessary to do what screenshots can usually show. I screen-recorded during this game more than any other game I've played. I had to upload this short video just truly capture what it's like to be a little bard, who sings and dances when they want, even when the characters are done with your nonsense. It's worth mentioning that dancing and learning the new dances are actually miss-able and not a required part of this game. However, dancing very important when it comes to making this game so genuinely enjoyable. Personally, every time I learned a new dance, I took a couple of minutes just to use it everywhere. Then recorded it. I'm not sure who these videos are for, but I'm keeping them nonetheless. Wasting time is so enjoyable in this game, despite the fact that you're constantly reminded that the world is quickly coming to end.
The gameplay itself isn't anything too difficult, but it's definitely still worth talking about. Many parts of your journey include platformer puzzles, which of course, you must use the bard's beautiful voice to complete. There's a few areas that took me a quite a few tries and different approaches to get through. Progressing through involves quickly being able to hit the right note and quickly switch notes, as well. Don't worry, if you're not too musically-inclined you'll still get by knowing the colors assigned to each note. The important point here is, you'll get plenty of platformer action out of this game, sandwiched in between narrative and exploration. Wandersong stands out with its pop-out 2D style, almost reminiscent of Paper Mario, and this style makes for interesting mechanics both in the towns and in puzzle adventures.
Wandersong was an absolutely beautiful experience, and likely my top indie game of 2018. I can't recommend it enough. I've never played a game quite like it. The developer is a genuinely nice person who constantly engages with the very active Wandersong fan community. Speaking of the fan community, there's some amazing fan art out there for this game, so be sure to check that out as well. If you're just not interested gorgeous, story-focused game about the absolute opposite of a "silent protagonist", then... you shouldn't play this game, but you also probably don't exist. This was perhaps my longest review to date, and I tried to limit myself on talking about all of the little quirks and moments that make this game so worthwhile.
Note: I referred to the bard as he in this review, but the bard can be identified as either he or they, according to the developer.
Wandersong is available for PC, Nintendo Switch, and PS4 (coming January 22).
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Playtime: 10 hours
How I heard about this game: Played demo at Dreamhack Austin