World to the West is the second release by Rain Games. Their first offering, Teslagrad, was one of the big indie hits a few years ago and ended up being included in a fair number of indie bundles. Rather than resting on their laurels though, they have decided to go in a different direction for World to the West. Although both games are puzzle adventure games, this is full 3D top-down, where Teslagrad was a 2D side-scroller. Have Rain released another success? Or should they have stuck to what they’re good at? Read on.
As someone who grew up playing the top-down Legend of Zelda games on the Gameboy and Gameboy Advance, it’s impossible for me to not draw a comparison here. World to the West may be in 3D rather than the pixelated 2D of old, but the mechanics are extremely similar. In those Legend of Zelda games you usually start off with almost nothing to your name. As time goes on you’ll beat bosses and complete dungeons to get new items or abilities and these will allow you to pass areas that previously blocked your progress and allow you to explore more of the map. World to the West is similar. Even the world map is grid based and shaded out until you reach each new area. The sound effects and tone are notably similar too. All told though, I wouldn’t call any of this a bad thing.
Mockarina of Rhyme
The big difference between the two is that while Zelda titles continually gave new items to provide access to new areas, World to the West gives you new characters. Each of these characters get a few upgrades along the way, but for the most part they focus on key abilities.
Lumina is a Teslamancer. As the title suggests, she’s related to the world featured in the first game. Her key abilities revolve around electricity and powering in-game contraptions. Teri is a sarcastic thief. While lacking any direct combat abilities, she can take control of enemies. These can be large beasts to fight on her behalf, or some of the game’s adorable little critters. After controlling the critters, she can call them back into her bag, releasing them to use their abilities later. Her other key ability is using her scarf to reach distant objects or areas, almost like some kind of shot that is long.
Knaus is a child-miner and mostly finds himself in places where larger or heavier characters can’t venture. He also throws around dynamite and seems to have a penchant for looting corpses. Finally, there’s my personal favourite, Lord Cloppington! Cloppington is basically Zangief from Street Fighter, but wearing a funny hat. He’s macho, self-involved and totally oblivious to the plight of the rest of the team. He’s far more concerned with doing heroic deeds so that he can get into the Affluence Club. He also hates fishing. When things need punching or lifting, he’ll be the guy you turn (in)to. Although each of the characters begin with their own motivations, and they remain largely separate for a lot of it, their stories are nicely tied together as you gain more open access to them.
It’s hard for me to get over the similarities to Zelda, but I’m doing World to the West a disservice by bringing it up repeatedly. The game can stand on its own legs and has enough unique touches to set itself apart. Visually, the game is cartoony and colourful, with a sort of low graphical fidelity that I’d compare to a remastered Nintendo 64 game (D’oh, more Nintendo similarities.) It’s an aesthetic that works really well for the game’s tone, and it’s nice to see something that just goes for a bit of old school colour. It’s like the next step up from modern pixel-art.
The world itself is really well designed. Travelling between each locale for the first time is a really nice experience. Candles, blooming plants and other bio-luminescent decorations will guide you around each area, acting as breadcrumbs to save you from getting lost. There’s this nice sort of in-built system where you’ll see areas as you wander and just know “I have to come back here later.” Thankfully, repeat visits are never a slog thanks to plenty of warp points littered along the way.
The story is really well delivered. The dialogue, which is genuinely clever and got plenty of wholesome laughs from me, is kept to short, informative bursts. The exposition never drags, and it all serves to either further the plot or develop a character. Semi-hidden tablets around the map give you a bit more insight into how the world came to be, if you choose to seek them out. They can also only be read by Lumina. Teri doesn’t understand the dialect, Knaus can’t read (d’aww), and Lord Cloppington point-blank refuses to read them.
Worst in the West
No game is perfect however, and World to the West is no exception. The biggest issue World to the West has is the combat mechanics. They simply aren’t engaging, to the point of barely existing at all. The creatures and critters in the game serve much more of a purpose as puzzle pieces than dangerous impediments. The core of the game is, of course, the exploration and the puzzles, but the enemies are ever present. They’ll always be there, chasing you, begging for a slap, but before long the bigger ones just become a nuisance. They also re-spawn each time you move between screens, which doesn’t help things.
On the note of non-existent mechanics, there’s also a currency that I don’t understand the inclusion of. All through the game I was collecting little golden pieces, but I only ever used them twice. Both times were to progress the story. I ended up collecting over 2,000 of the things and spending about 50. There was an option where I could buy critters for Teri, but they’re so abundant I can’t imagine anyone having to use it. I have to assume they had planned on adding more of a shopping element to the game, but ditched it at the last minute.
So Anyway, Here’s Westerwall
My other issue is with the game’s audio, both the music and the sound effects. The music itself is actually pretty good. It’s cheerful and catchy, which is exactly what you’d want from a game like this. The problem is that there isn’t enough of it. As a result, it ends up getting repetitive in a hurry. My issue may be that the music that is in the game is so good, I just wanted to hear more of the same stuff. This may also be a fairly exclusive issue to me, since I powered through the game in two sessions. Take the game at a more leisurely pace and you might not notice this at all. You will, however, notice the quality of the sounds.
A lot of it, especially the limited vocal effects, sound like they were recorded with a headset mic. This is pretty jarring and it’ll happen a lot. I noticed it mostly when playing as Lord Cloppington. His macho yawps are among the worst offenders for recording quality, they also sound off for pretty much any action you take as him.
Link to the West
Really, when I think about it, I’m amazed that more developers haven’t turned their hands at this style of gameplay. It could be described as derivative of something Nintendo perfected, but it’s been a long while since they released something in this vein. From 2007’s Phantom Hourglass up to Link Between Worlds, there hasn’t been a true successor to the classic handheld style. If you’ve been craving something a little more like old school Zelda after Breath of the Wild, World to the West is about as good an example of where to go as I can think of.
Overall, World to the West is a wonderful indie game. It’s short, sweet and utterly wholesome. It may not be terribly challenging, but that doesn’t stop it from being engaging. The art and animation is beautiful, the story is enjoyable and the dialogue is humorous. After a long day at work/school, it may be the perfect game to zone out and unwind to.