While personally never experiencing one, I can understand the appeal of summer camp or a getaway with one's peers—away from their parents or responsibilities. The moments that will last one's lifetime meeting new people and bonding within a timeframe that encourages living life to its fullest. Earning badges for their dedication and helping to create an atmosphere of kinsmanship with people from all over. It's a vacation, new home, and in some ways a school all wrapped into one.
Camp W is a game that works to recreate those magical moments with an added twist in the form of fantasy elements. What screams child-like whimsy like tracing images in a grimoire to cast spells onto unsuspecting audiences? It's a perspective that feels innocent in nature, which blends well into the entire atmosphere of the title, both in writing and in artistic design. What it all amounts to may be different to everyone, which is what makes the appeal to these harmonious endeavors so charming. From my own perspective, the entire scope feels a little bittersweet, like the dawn of the final day of a summer camp's welcoming embrace.
Camp W is available to purchase on Steam for your regional pricing.
A young witch named, well, technically whatever you want to name them, is sick of life under the authority of their (non-acknowledging terms indicate the player can be either gender) demanding mother, a celebrity figure in the Witching Realm. They desire to be free from the constant need to work on bettering themselves as a witch to goof off and enjoy the nature of their youth. Along with snappy commentary from their squirrel-familiar named Nugget, the young witch stumbles upon a means to open a portal to the Human Realm, which curiosity and a strange urging has them go through without thinking twice. Upon awakening, they realize that the world is not what they're used to as the dangers of revealing the secret world of witches become more prevalent with each opportunity to cast a spell. Coming upon a campsite full of rambunctious kids ranging from an artistic free-spirit to a jock-ish trio of bros doesn't help.
But what's the fun of discovering a realm to another world if one has to zip right back afterwards? The young witch takes advantage of the events transpired and makes themselves at home in this familiar, yet foreign world.
What one is to expect from the story—and in turn the writing—is the kind of witty dialogue and direction that has become fairly popular in recent years. If one can explain it in some detail, it would likely consist of the decriptors "self-aware" or "meta." Though this isn't to say the writing is simply full of jokes that make the story hard to take seriously, there's definitely an element of fourth-wall-breaking that reminds me of similar styles of writing that, say, Disney as a company has incorporated in their recent films of TV shows. One could absolutely take this as a compliment, though I myself have become a little wary of this type of writing, as I feel it occasionally usurps the weight of the story or the serious events that unfold if the direction decides to point that way. Let it be known that Camp W does have serious elements to its story.
Even so, I feel the tone of the story here is of little nuisance. Enjoyable are the little scenarios that happen between the central character and the kids at the camp (or Nugget), and even when things turned a little grim (as grim as possible), it still managed to keep my immersion. The dialogue for characters are typically good and invoke that feeling of getting to know people at their core (with a touch of innocence), even if they tend to feel too into their one-note quirks. One girl likes witchcraft. Every opportunity to hang out with her typically deals with witchcraft, because she likes witchcraft. Similarly with other characters, though with different topics of discussion.
What becomes the major downfall of Camp W falls within how expansive the story is, as well as the foundation for collecting badges. By "how expansive," I mean it isn't, really. One playthrough took me about two hours to go through without skipping any text, and a good portion of that felt like introductory jargon. Simply getting to the Human Realm took about a half-hour, with the scrambling to figure out all that was going on took another half-hour. That meant I had about an hour to enjoy the experience of being in summer camp and getting to know these other kids and counselors (and cook). In visual novel terms, this is next to nothing, and with how the story goes in introducing plot elements that work to disrupt the fun and games, it feels rushed, incredibly rushed. By the time I got to the "The End" that indicated the playthrough was over, all I could think was "Wow, that's it?"
To some degree, this could be alleviated by doing multiple playthroughs, as one cannot do everything possible in a single playthrough. The issue with this is that going through a whole other playthrough is mostly the same dialogue (which thankfully one can skip using a skip feature). The issue with that, however, is that one won't have the same immersive quality as if they read the whole thing start to finish, instead having the mindset of getting through all they missed for the sake of filling in the blanks. Enjoyable as these missing conversations with new characters may be, I still can't help but feel like I'm simply doing it because I want the accompanying achievements and not because I actually want to. Some differentiation with the general foundation of the story with each playthrough may help in combatting this.
The other aspect that is bothersome is the act of collecting badges. In itself, collecting badges is fun, but here, it doesn't feel like I even deserve them. Every so often, the player is tasked with making choices that affect the outcome of a certain situation (outside of choosing who to hang out with/who's idea to go with). Dependent on what choice one makes, they always end up rewarding the player with a merit badge. The sense of accomplishment absolutely plummets when it becomes a token thing for picking a choice, rather than actually doing something. Still, it's hard to implement that level of immersiveness in a short visual novel, so it's not that noticeable of a blemish; only another thing that becomes uneventful with continuous playthroughs.
As one would expect from a visual novel, there isn't too much a player can do outside of reading and clicking. There are some attempts made to make the game feel a little more immersive, which is appreciated, though fairly minimal. Outside of mountains of text, one can make choices, access their grimoire to see one's progress with spells, characters, and what-not; and trace images to cast spell during certain segments of the game. This last example took me by surprise, and is likely the most distinguishing factor of the game on its own. For such a simple concept, it's nice to be able to re-evoke my enjoyment of Mario Party's Crazy Cutter mini-game in a different scenario. That aside, it's little things like this that better my experience with the game outside of simply reading and reading and more reading.
However, this is essentially it for gameplay options. One reads and occasionally traces some images to concoct some spells (that are rarely shown in detail). For a visual novel, this is pretty standard, but for those wondering if the game provides any more than the standard visual novel experience, it's, again, minimal. As someone who enjoys visual novels, I like the ambition to make the story a little more witchy, but anyone else will likely be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of words (which, frankly, pale in comparison to some other visual novels out there).
Graphics & Audio
Stop me if you've heard this one before: What originally drew me into this game was the vibrancy of its design. There's a really nice almost retro design to its characters and setting, which reminds me quite a bit of, once again, Disney. The colors pop wonderfully atop the already luscious backgrounds. The characters magnificently fit with the personas they've adopted for themselves, and the number of expressions each character has really brings the story alive. Even more so, the central character is always in view whenever dialogue is being dispersed, giving a view of how they, as their own character, feels about what's going on or what's being said. That level of detail is always appreciated, especially in a story where the player is looking through their eyes and rarely sees them. It makes that central character just as much of a character to empathize with as those they're interacting with. No complaints here.
What also aids in the more child-friendly tone of the game is the choice of tracks and sound effects the game incorporates throughout its runs. I swear I've heard many of the sound effects they incorporate in various cartoons growing up, as well as music that would definitely fit within the same venue. It's definitely going for silly and fun, but the same effect the artistic style had on me didn't quite hit the mark with the music. It's fairly forgettable in its desire to go from ambience than outright catchy tracks, which is understandable. Even so, the quality may have been decent, but the effect only does so much within the context of the game—which means essentially nada outside of it.
There are qualifications for Camp W that make it a safe and enjoyable summer treat for the casual visual novel indulgent. Outside that realm, however, is a fairly okay display at storytelling hampered by the constraints of never going further than need be. What it promises in artistic sublimity and delectable all-ages fun is met without issue, though at the cost of being something tremendously valued in the tangible world of visual novels. A game that can be served as a starting point for what gamers can expect from western visual novels; that I can absolutely credit it with.
|+ Great artistic direction and detail||– Story feels rushed near the end; borderline incomplete|
|+ Tone and atmosphere is wonderfully immersive||– Leaves a lot to be desired|
|+ Dialogue and writing are enjoyable||– Choices/story routes feel blatantly mechanical, unsatisfying|