In medieval-themed games like Dungeons and Dragons, bards usually get a reputation for being useless or uninteresting. Why would you want to be able to sing good when you can be someone who can effortlessly cleave through swarms of monsters, shoot fireballs from your hands, or invoke divine powers from the gods? Even when they get special powers like being a jack-of-all-skills, they're always considered uncool. In Wandersong, you get to play the role of the bard. You may not have a huge sword or awesome magic, but you have a song in your heart and boundless optimism, and your willingness to stand against danger with only those tools may be even more heroic than anything else.
The game can be bought on Steam for your regional price.
Story and writing
Wandersong is a game that follows the adventures of a cheerful bard. The game lets you give him a four-letter name a bit into it, but I'll call him 'Bardlet' for the review. Our friend Bardlet's got a problem. A big one. In a dream he had one night, he got a message about the the goddess Eya, who created the world long ago with her song of creation, is set to sing it again, which will bring the current universe to an end and replace it with something new. Sure, it's happened before and it's a natural part of creation and destruction, but Bardlet would rather not have the world end.
The only way to keep the universe from being reset is to sing the Earthsong, a mysterious melody whose parts are known by the Overseers of the spirit world. It's a task that requires a true hero. Unfortunately, Bardlet isn't really a hero. Even in his dream he could barely wield the sword against the monster. All he's got is his powerful singing voice and his cheerful nature. Still, he's willing to give it his all! With the help of Miriam the grumpy witch, Bardlet goes on a journey to find all the parts of the Earthsong and save the world!
When talking about the writing, it would be a good idea to refer to the game's Kickstarter campaign back in 2016. The Kickstarter mentions that the game's story and writing are inspired by bits of media such as EarthBound, Over the Garden Wall, and My Neighbor Totoro. I can definitely see that in the writing, and all of those bits of media have excellent writing. However, I can also see a bit of the Paper Mario games in the writing. The Paper Mario writing mostly comes from how well the game goes from its humorous moments into the more poignant moments.
The game's story is divided into several Acts, much like a play, with each Act having a pretty similar structure. Bardlet travels to a new location, helps the people there out with some problem they're having via the power of singing, learns a song that he can use to access the spirit world, and meets an Overseer. It's a pretty basic story loop, but each Act uses Bardlet's singing skills in different ways that help keep the game feeling fresh. For instance, one area has you use your voice to change the direction of powerful wind gusts, while another has you sing to direct the way a plant-like platform grows.
The gameplay in Wandersong is pretty simple. The game at its core is a two-dimensional side-scroller with some light rhythm, platformer, and puzzle elements. You can move Bardlet around with the WASD keys, but the more important controls are the ones that let you sing. By holding down the left mouse button, you bring up a colored wheel around Bardlet, and moving the white circle that represents your mouse into a section causes him to sing at different pitches. Singing is primarily used for solving various puzzles, as well as interact with smaller details in the environment, like changing the color of nearby flowers or changing the direction of wind gusts. You can also sing by using the number pad with Num Lock on, which might be easier for some. Finally, you can hold down the ALT key to have Bardlet dance, and you can press certain keys to have him do different dances he can learn. He can even dance while walking and singing, and if the comedic adventure RPG West of Loathing taught me anything, it's that the ability to walk around in a goofy way is an extremely powerful feature.
Some of you out there might be worried that it'll be impossible to play this game if you have no sense of rhythm. Fortunately, the game is pretty lenient overall with how well you do the puzzles. You also don't need too good of a sense of rhythm, as a good deal of the puzzles are basically musical versions of Simon. The only time it gets into rhythm game territory is when Bardlet has to sing a song to enter the spirit world, where you have to hit the notes on the wheel in time with the song. In these situations, the Num Pad is basically the only way to easily do these, since the mouse is a little too unwieldy for precision singing. Luckily, the game doesn't penalize you for singing where there isn't supposed to be one. It might be too easy for some, but it's likely that the game is focused on making sure players can experience the story.
The game does have a few problems that I've found on the PC, however. When I started the game for the first time, the game was very laggy. What made this worse is the fact that when the game is lagging that much, it actually affects how high Bardlet can jump, which makes it impossible to progress in certain areas. I found a workaround here, but it definitely caused me a bit of concern when I started the game.
Graphics and Audio
The visuals of Wandersong use a minimalistic aesthetic to very good effect. The environments in the game are brightly colored and verdant, with a graphical style that makes the world look vaguely like it's made out of construction paper. The way the foregrounds and backgrounds layer create a pop-up book sort of effect when transitioning between layers. Going back to Paper Mario references, the characters also share the flatness of those characters, as they happen to be two-dimensional and briefly turn into a straight line when turning around.
Given that this is a game themed around music and singing, the game's soundtrack has to be up to snuff. Fortunately, the game's soundtrack meets these expectations and proceeds to surpass them greatly. The soundtrack, made by the Vancouver-based composer A Shell in the Pit (who has also worked on soundtracks for games like Rogue Legacy, Okhlos, and Full Metal Furies,) contains over 100 different songs, all of them masterfully composed. The songs run the whole gamut of emotional ranges and serve a variety of purposes, whether it be background music in the various locales or the occasional song with non-vocal lyrics. Out of the ones I've heard in the game, one of my favorites is 'I Want to Be a Hero,' which can be heard relatively early into the game, and is endearingly charming as Bardlet sings about how he'll show the world that he's more than just a singer.
Speaking of singing, Bardlet's singing voice is also a joy to listen to. He can sing at any point in the game and is a great showcase of Wandersong's sound design. What makes his singing more fun is that fact that his vocals change based on how he's feeling in the story. By default, he belts out his tunes with the power of a stereotypical Swiss Alp singer. When he's feeling down, it changes to a much more subdued tune. It's so charming that it's easy to miss the game's wonderful soundtrack.
Wandersong is a greatly unique experience among video games. While the game isn't very long, it's a roller coaster ride through the whole spectrum of emotion which is carefully wrapped in a story featuring a memorable cast of characters in a lovingly crafted construction paper-style world. The soundtrack, which can be found on A Shell in the Pit's Bandcamp or on Steam, is a definite buy for anyone who enjoys listening to video game soundtracks. Wandersong is a game that is hard to forget for all the right reasons.
|+ Masterful soundtrack||– Intense optimization causes PC bugs|
|+ Highly memorable aesthetic||– May be too easy for some|
|+ Enjoyable and unique characters||– Singing controls not amazing for precision singing|
|+ Dedicated dance-walking button|
|+ Great concept|