Friday, August 7, 2015

Whispering Willows is Solid, But Missing Some Heart - The Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: Mechanically sound with an interesting premise, Whispering Willows fails to elevate itself above a generic adventure game. The ability to Astral project is a great mechanic, and the story has all the makings of an exciting tale, but ultimately the game comes off as bland and forgettable.

Adventure games have a long history, dating back to when games started to grow into a viable past time. Though there was a slow fade in the late 90's/early 00's where the genre seemed to be dying off, adventure games are alive today and more diverse than ever before. With games like the heavily narrative based Telltale's The Walking Dead, re-releases of classics like Grim Fandango, and brand new games built to emulate the classics, like Broken Age, it's really hard to recommend the bland and simple Whispering Willows over these examples and others like them.

Astral projection is a mechanic that should be used more often.
Whispering Willows is the story of young Elena, a girl whose father has disappeared while investigating the mysterious Willow Mansion. Waking up in the middle of the night, Elena grabs her glowing green pendant and makes off to find her father. Shortly after arriving at the Mansion, Elena discovers that her pendant grants her the ability to Astral project and must use this power to help free the troubled spirits of the Mansion on her way to her father.

And it's these spectral powers that the game's puzzles are based off of. Elena will constantly be moving in and out of her body in order to speak with spirits, move into unreachable areas and posses objects, such as switches and bookshelves, that can then be moved. This simple style of game play is great for players of any skill level, as the only real danger in the game are small, spectral creatures that appear three times in the four hour long campaign. 

Is there any way to increase the difficulty?

However, the puzzles themselves are almost too simple. I consider myself a clever person, but most adventure games seem to stump me with their puzzles. With Whispering Willows, it was the exact opposite. Often times I would walk into a room and find the spots where I would be blocked only to predict exactly what I was going to have to do to move forward. This simplicity does make the game more open, but without any challenge what so ever, it makes the game feel bland on an intellectual level. Some will say that the puzzles in Telltale games are not very clever either, but those are at least off set by an intriguing story with interesting characters.

This is what the game looks like, all the time.

And unfortunately, the game's story does not help balance out the boring game play. As much as I wanted Elena to be this awesome character, she very rarely evoked any emotional response from me at any point in the game. The story itself doesn't offer her any time to really show herself, so that is part of the blame, but in the moments where you would expect to see something from her instead falls flat and comes off as monotonous. 

What's your name again?

Outside of Elena there are a few side characters, but they are often quickly forgotten shortly after talking to them. Even the music and art style feel bland and typical, with the whole package coming off as being completely feasible as a game, but not memorable at all. 

Having easy puzzles isn't a bad thing, but without a strong narrative to pick up this slack, Whispering Willows just comes off as forgettable. If you are looking for something to introduce someone to games who doesn't have a whole lot of time or experience with them, Whispering Willows would probably suffice. That being said, this is also an experience that will quickly be forgotten for most.

6.5 out of 10

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