World to the West

Norway

If you remember my review of Teslagrad, you might remember how impressed I was by this 2D-Metroidvania and that it easily became one of my favorite games within this genre. It is probably among the finest games ever created in Scandinavia, and I was quite excited when I heard Rain Games was going to make a stand-alone sequel to this gem. However, when the first trailer came out, it looked like something out of an alpha-project with poor textures and gameplay that seemed more context-sensitive than keys for opening doors. 

The reviews it got were also generally mixed, but at least more on the positive side and to be fair, going for a new gameplay-mechanic could be a good idea to broaden your horizon as developers. After having it staring at me on the Steam, GOG, and on the PS4 home-screen, I knew it was about bloody time I to actually take a look at what the next step for Rain Games was. So let’s see what this overhead action-game has to offer and what lies to the west.

Yupp, this is a world alright… can I please explore it?

We have four protagonists that travel towards the world to the west, and I will try my best to give each a short introduction. First is Lumina, a Teslamancer who tried to locate her father inside a huge tower, where she was to do her training to become a true Teslamancer. Trying to surprise her father by taking a shortcut upwards with the help of two other children, she accidentally gets teleported to another world. While she explores the world around her, she stumbles and falls into an underground ruin, where she is said to be the chosen one by an old lady, with a totem representing her and three other heroes. One of the other ones is the kid Knaus, who is forced to work as a miner underground alongside plenty of other children, as they are told by their evil leader that they are in fact on the moon. A reference to Plato’s allegory of the cave later on, and he is kicked out for saying that there is, in fact, a world above them.

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Knaus also comes across the totem and the old lady who claims he is one of the chosen ones, but instead of meeting Lumina, he meets up with the treasure hunter Teri instead, who is out on a mission for a rich man, Mr. Tycoon, in order to find an old artifact. Of course, she too is a chosen one, and they decide to team up for helping Teri, and for Knaus to discover what the future holds for him. If that wasn’t enough, we also have a fourth chosen one approaching later on, Clonington, who is helping a scientist conducting research, while basking in his own glory and hope that everybody sees what a magnificent man he is.

I know I have been already talking about these four characters for what must seem like a long introduction, but that is because the story feels like a long introduction with nothing solid to speak of. In fact, this introduction takes up about 40% of the story and you are still shown new mechanics and little is done to progress the overall plot. Despite this, you jump from one character to another and don’t get to really establish a connection, just tropes and some vague lore about the world. This is also a problem at the beginning, since you aren’t able to explore the vast world you are left with minor lore and a couple of admittedly charming npc’s to talk to. This establishes what kind of tone the story goes for, but doesn’t provide anything insightful or an excuse for the drawn-out beginning.

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The pacing for letting you get engrossed is terrible as well and does not give you enough freedom for you to make clear connections to the world or what you should make of it. Even the TP-statues that represent our heroes and the old lady predicting the future, while played for laughs, come of as tiresome. What holds this story up, however, are our heroes. Once you actually get them together, they do have some cute banter between each other and you get engrossed in their personalities as you get to see they are not one dimensional. Knaus is a kid who wants to do what is right, but acknowledges the danger the world has, and Clonington is a strong and naïve champ, but shows he also has a childlike wonder to the challenges, even if he can be full of himself. This made me care about their safety.

Sadly, it takes time before you even get to this point, since random events that are related to our characters happen, but nothing that ties it into the bigger plot. They all have, to an extent, a common bad guy who is behind their struggles, but none of the activities until the last part is tied in with defeating him. In fact, due to the slow story and long introductions, the story does not properly start until chapter 9. When you consider the last chapter is 11, I had a hard time caring onwards or even before about what kind of world I was in, especially when lore is told through books and rarely shown visually through interactions. It definitely wants you to have a fun time with charming characters and some chuckles along the way, but that can only hold your interest for so long, if the journey itself is nothing of interest and does not even get properly started before the end. 

Story Score:  4/10

Why it is dangerous, but better to go alone

Taking on a different genre from Rain Games’ previous project, World to the West is an overhead adventure game, not unlike Nintendo’s Zelda, but still follows Teslagrad’s focus on puzzle-based gameplay. This time, you have a world to explore instead of a 2D-Metroidvania and 4 characters that you will be able to control throughout the game, if the game lets you. First, we have Lumina who can teleport short distances, activate electronic hover-constructions and attack with a poor swing and not much else. She does get a projectile-attack later on, which is also used for a couple of clever puzzles, and it can even destroy boulders when upgraded.

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Knaus, on the other hand, takes on more of a stealth-approach in his abilities, which is highlighted by having the lowest amount of health. Due to his ability to crawl through small gaps, plant or throw dynamite, dig under specific surfaces Bugs Bunny-style, and attack with a simple shovel for stunning, he is quite the versatile little kid if not the strongest. He will later also get the ability to skate over surfaces with ice-skates that literally create ice. Somewhat similarly played, is Teri. Her special ability is that she can run (of all things) and use mind-control to command monsters in the overworld and use their abilities for puzzle-solving. Besides this, she can use her scarf to pull over gaps if they have a rod sticking up from the ground. Finally, we have our combatant Clonington, with the most health, combo-attacks, and a charge-attack that can end in a suplex or be used for jumping over small gaps. As for traversing otherwise, he can at least climb over ledges.

To get this out of the way first, the combat overall is terribly lackluster. Enemies are dull with nothing interesting to speak of as they attack in similar manner and only their amount of health differs, with the boss-fights having rudimentary patterns with a dodge-hit mentality. Frankly, this is not a main part of the game, but noticeable enough to be mentioned. With each character’s abilities, you are set to navigate through many different puzzles using their tools to get further. This is actually done decently, as some temples will require one character’s help in order to get the item inside, and they take good advantage of using their abilities in different manners, while also testing your keen eye as you must look around thoroughly to find out what to do next. 

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The problem here comes from actually having multiple characters. Whenever the game lets you control more than one character, you have to switch between them by using the totems, which are scattered all over the world. This would have not been so bad if the character you wanted to choose did not have to discover the same totem in order to be used on the same spot. Yes, this means backtracking with multiple characters in order to use them on the same totem, which is just awful. This is baffling to me when character-switching could have been done much simpler or better yet: just have one character to focus on and give that character multiple abilities. This could have neglected shortcuts and made you able to become more creative with your abilities, especially since the characters get, for example, similar abilities for traversing over gaps. it feels like the developers forgot how much simpler they could have done this or wanted to use all their ideas individually. At least when a totem is discovered, you can use it as a warp-point.

At least you are always told where to go to, but these directions are met with little to no reasons, and you are just supposed to go along with it. The worst part, however, is that you won’t get to control the entire party of four characters until chapter 9. It is so bizarre that the gameplay reflects the story so well by not starting the real journey until the very end of the game. By this point, you will have already been playing for 6 hours for what feels like long tutorials,  backtracking with multiple characters, and redo puzzles in only a slightly different manner at best. I didn’t even know what use diamonds had for a good 5 hours, which is the currency that you won’t have any use for, unless when the game tells you that you have to buy something in order to progress. Even then, I had more than enough for whatever I needed.

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However, when you actually can explore, the issues stand even stronger as you will have to travel the same long distances with multiple characters and use their abilities in the most shallow manner in order to get further. I didn’t even care for the upgradable health-chests or those containing currency, as neither was needed or rewarding, even if they contained some decent puzzles.  

I will clarify that the puzzles in the game, are entertaining and while they can be very easy, they make good use of our heroes’ abilities and can make for some good time and force you to be aware of your surroundings, which is especially helpful with the moveable camera. Being able to finally explore the world is interesting and provides a sense of freedom and planning on how to proceed. Sadly, due to the backtracking, some other means to get further can almost feel like context-sensitive moments, where you just replace a key and a door, with the ability to crawl through gaps. If they just scaled-down and made this adventure for one single protagonist, it could have cut down a lot of the unnecessary fat. As of now, there is some enjoyment to be had, but too many tedious encounters to really be enthralled with this adventure.

Gameplay Score: 4/10

A nice design, but lack of texture

I will admit that after actually playing through this game, the visuals grew on me. We have a simple design for our heroes with focus on good facial-animations, and I like the strong attention to colors. I also love how diverse our heroes are in design, yet fit with this world, with the exception being Lumina, who is supposed to be an outcast. The world is, however, too traditional in order to be memorable, with poor enemy-variety, but fits the tone with a story that just wants to be a fairytale. Though I can’t say the “ice-world, desert-world, and forest-world” couldn’t have at least something memorable about them, in order to stay relevant or memorable. Even the ruins aren’t interesting despite the lore they try to hammer in.

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Though while I am happy with some of the choices in design, better textures could definitely have been added as well. The worlds aren’t really brimming with details because of this, and our humanoid creatures look more like monkeys than anything else. It is also bizarre that the old lady and the baboons have more facial-features than the actual humans. I am also not a fan of the lighting, as it can shift from serviceable to downright terrible and not reflect well on our character or even the environment. At least the other effects are alright, with feathers leaping from a carpet, for example, being nice details.

On a better note, the music is good, atmospheric and lighthearted. All areas have something related to them, such as Clonington’s trumpets whenever he is boasting about his ego, or how the mining-facilities track contains whistling. This is similar throughout the game, and it helps for creating a diverse and intriguing atmosphere, where even underground areas become different because of this. The sound effects are also pleasing, and details like how Clonington’s punches sound like bells that become higher pitched by each hit are lovely. I just wish the visuals could match the diverse audio.

Presentation Score: 6/10

Scavenger hunt

Just like in Teslagrad, there are collectible batteries to be found throughout the game in order to finish it. While you will this time need only 50% of them, you aren’t able to find many of them until chapter 9, which is, as stated, the last stretch, therefore forcing you to do a scavenger hunt. With all the backtracking previously, it is hard to enjoy this when it is forced upon you. Sure, the puzzles to get these are satisfying and fun to solve. Unfortunately, backtracking could have been one issue, but these batteries tell an uninteresting story in a rather shallow manner. You will be able to also gather more upgrades for your tools, but none are needed or even interesting enough to gather. If it hadn’t been for the fun puzzles, there would have been no reason to even attempt this.

Extra Score: 3/10

Verdict

Have you ever heard someone say “you just have to get over this part, and then it gets good”? This is a perfect reason for why this is utter bollocks. Having to get towards the end-part of a game before it gets even serviceable, does not excuse the tedious pre-content and the story feeling like a 7-hour introduction. Yet after the long tutorial, you still have to endure backtracking, uninteresting combat, forced exploration, in a rather uninteresting world that the presentation can only do so much. If they just focused on one character, I do really believe a lot could have been fixed as there are some legit positives with the puzzles, the charming characters, and atmosphere. Sadly, you will have to put up with some poor design-choices in every category. 

45/100

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