Developer: Magic Sandbox
Publisher: Headup Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Adventure, Action & Role-Playing
Release Date: March 27, 2019 (EU & NA)
Issues aplenty await you in this grungy adventure.
Upon Windscape’s initial trailer, many hailed it as a potential Zelda-like game, with a low-fi Skyrim feel. There are clearly many elements borrowed from those games, and as such I jumped at the chance to get my hands on this one. You have to keep in mind that this is done by a small indie developer, so you can’t expect the game to match the heights of those two juggernauts, but regardless, how does this one hold up? Let’s find out!
In Windscape, you take control of Ida, a small farm girl learning to make her first meat stew. After doing so, her father hands her a club and adventure is soon thrust upon her. The world is made up of floating islands, and they are being destroyed by an evil force. Ida inexplicably ends up being roped in to be the one to fight off this threat and save the world.
The story is rather bare bones, as is to be expected by a low-budget adventure game. Why Ida is the one on this adventure seems rather flimsy at best, as she just kind of leaves her farm to fulfill a delivery, clubs some bandits to death, saves a prince, then ends up on an airship on her way to save the world. There is no explanation why the King sends her instead of, oh I don’t know, a trained royal guard maybe? This is rather silly, but in a way I found kind of fun.
What does break the story however, is the fact that it feels entirely unfinished. There is a moment where you are told that you must rescue and speak with three sages in order to fight the evil destroying the world. You leave in search of these sages, and that fact is reiterated on. When you reach the second sage though, they direct you straight to the final boss confrontation, with no explanation as to what happened to the third sage, why they are no longer a part of the story, or why they are not needed to be rescued in order to fight the final villain. Defeating the final boss also ends with a rolling of the credits, no story wrap-up whatsoever. This all makes the game feel rushed and incomplete.
The gameplay reminds me of a first-person Zelda game, taking elements from both Breath of the Wild, as well as the more traditional titles. There is a quest system, where you speak with NPCs around the world and complete tasks for them, eventually leading you on more and more quests. Dungeons require puzzle solving and an aptitude for battle, ending with a boss confrontation and a heart container that increases your overall health limit. This all sounds great, but let’s dig a little deeper.
Starting with the controls, this is an issue I tend to overlook in most games I play. I feel a bad control scheme can be easily dealt with after some practice, and most games offer button remapping as well. Unfortunately, Windscape is not a game where its controls can be overlooked. To sprint, you must hold in the left stick. Let me repeat that, the left stick must be held in to run. Doing so means that you are holding the left stick forward, whilst also pressing the stick down, which is awkward as it is. Holding the stick all the way forward however, means that holding the run button doesn’t stay held down easily. This forces you to hold the stick partly forward, whilst also pressing down, which caused major hand cramps after even short bursts of gameplay.
All the menus in the game are navigated by moving a mouse cursor around with the analogue stick. This feels completely unnecessary, and when paired with the run button needing to be held down, makes the entire control scheme seem like it was made for PC, and just transferred to a controller in a rather slapdash manner. Using a mouse to navigate menus and holding the shift key to run for instance feels natural on PC, where hold to run and cursor controls on a console feel clunky and awkward. Jump is also mapped to the R button, which is a weird choice, but not one that is a fundamental flaw like the other two issues.
When a quest is undertaken, a quest marker gets marked on your compass. Just like many other games, this works as a way to direct you to the next part of a mission. Unfortunately, the quest markers frequently break, forcing you to navigate a mission without one, or sometimes as a mission updates, the quest marker will not, forcing you to fend for yourself. Speaking of missions, you can sometimes undertake side quests by speaking with NPCs in the world. Unfortunately, this seems to get abandoned pretty quickly, so the amount of side quests available are minimal, making this seem like a feature that was not able to be fleshed out at all or truly finished.
As you continue your adventure, Ida maintains a diary, which updates as you complete quests. These tend to be just single sentence entries, outlining Ida’s thoughts on things and what you have done on your adventure. Sadly, this also seems like a feature that was never finished, as about halfway through the first island, Ida didn’t write any more entries. She completely abandoned the diary not even a quarter of the way into her adventure, which was rather disappointing.
Combat is rather simple, and I found it enjoyable at first. You swing and fire your weapon with the right trigger, use a shield with your left, and change weapons on the fly by using the across arrows on the D-pad. It isn’t in depth at all, but not all combat needs to be. Regrettably though, each encounter ended up with me circling away from the enemies weapon hand as I clubbed them to death with whatever weapon I had on hand. If that failed, it was a matter of holding up my shield, swinging the weapon wildly, then holding up the shield again.
To get stronger, you need to craft new weapons and armour, as well as new magical abilities. There are quite a few different weapons and armour types, and each island you visit adds a couple of new additions you can craft. You gather materials by slaying enemies, gathering ingredients, chopping down trees and mining for ore. You then use a forge to refine the ores you have, and use a workbench to make the items you want. There is much less choice when it comes to magic, as you only have access to a fire and an ice spell of varying strengths.
Traversing the world is a rather large aspect of Windscape, and is quite interesting in the beginning. The first island has some neat things to find and areas to explore, especially off the beaten track. That feeling doesn’t hold true for dungeons, which although they look different from each other, the assets within a certain dungeon will be repeated to death. This causes a sense of deja vu, and makes it very easy to get lost, needing to refer to the map multiple times to make sure you are headed in the right direction. I also found that there were quite a few instances in these dungeons where I would get stuck on the environment, which ended up forcing me to exit out of the game and load it back up again. This mostly happened in the back half of the game, but after the sixth time, I felt it was a recurring enough issue to be a problem worth mentioning.
The visual design is one that seems like it will be rather divisive. It is very low-fi, almost like a modern PlayStation 1 game. Characters faces are distorted creepy messes, and all the environments are polygons in the shape of the things they mean to represent. It is a look I very much enjoyed, especially in the beginning. That said, as more and more aspects of the game felt unfinished, it began to take away my enjoyment of the look overall. I started to wonder, does it look like this due to artistic vision, or was it just never finished?
What is rather outstanding though is the soundtrack. Each track suits the mood and feel of each area, and truly fits where they are supposed to go. That last part is important, as the music doesn’t always play where it is supposed to. For example, after disposing of a boss, the battle music would continue to play until you entered a different major area. This led to amusing moments of me picking mushrooms to the most intense music of all time. Unfortunately, the sound effects don’t live up to the high standards of the soundtrack, with weapon hits sounding almost cartoonish, and every villager speaking like a character from The Sims.
Now, there are some more issues I need to bring light to. I found that in large areas, the game would begin to stutter as the frame rate dropped. This mostly happened in the back half of the game, and made combat in those areas extremely difficult. The game did hard crash on me three times in one particular area, as I tried to enter a pyramid. There were other crashes as well that happened, all of which happened during a loading screen. An enemy golem that had a massive push back with its attacks sent me through a wall on one occasion, forcing me to reset the game. Sometimes, a boss would refuse to take damage, forcing me to reset the game, leave the boss area and re-enter it before engaging in battle. As you can see, there were quite a lot of unfortunate issues to contend with.
Windscape is a game that seems to have a lot of artistic vision, taking inspiration from games like The Legend of Zelda, and setting a lofty goal to create a game of that ilk. Alas, many issues plague it, from broken quest markers and seemingly unfinished features, to flat out hard crashes and game breaking bugs. The control scheme feels like a rushed remapping of a PC interface made to work on a controller, which makes the game uncomfortable to control to the extent of causing hand cramps.
Overall the game feels unfinished, not only due to the fact that certain features are not fully realised, but also because the story obviously cuts out an entire sage to rescue, and just ends in a very unsatisfactory way. This serves to make the low-fi graphical style to seem more like a sign of the games unfinished nature, more so than a visual design choice. That said, the soundtrack is fantastic, but the soundtrack alone isn’t enough to save a game that has many fundamental issues and flaws baked into the foundation of the game.
THE VERDICT: 3/10
*Review Key Provided by Headup Games
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This post was written by Lachlan Bruce