Every so often, a game comes along that surprises you. When I first started playing World to the West I didn’t know what to expect from the title. I had not played Telsagrad and knew very little about developers Rain Games at all. I can state however, that I am pleased with this particular title, and can recommend it – though up to a point.
World to the West is a top-down 3D action adventure game, focusing on puzzles and using a wide range of abilities to progress through its story. Throughout the game you will be interchangeably playing as four different characters. The characters are a lighting rod-wielding ‘Teslamancer’, a small boy with a shovel, a hilarious muscle-bound gentleman and a mind-controlling mercenary. Players can change characters by leaving the other three at ‘totems’ that are scattered around the world, returning as and when they need to in order to switch. Your characters are also able to fast travel to totems that they have personally visited, making backtracking much less arduous.
I found the switching character mechanic to be a bit clunky, as having to backtrack through a level with a different character rather than simply switching them out via the menu seems a bit of a waste of time. I understand however, that without this the game’s exploration would be too easy, as obstacles requiring multiple character skillsets could be avoided entirely in sections. Though that being said it could of been implemented better to avoid too much retreaded ground.
The game plays very similarly to that of a Legend of Zelda game, and wears this influence openly. The entire game map is open to exploration from the get-go but you will find dead ends that you will have to revisit with different characters in order to progress. Characters will get upgrades that will allow them to open up new areas of the map, much like in Link to the Past for example, which I found to be the best part of gameplay. Being able to suddenly think to yourself “Ah I can go back to that area and get that chest” is a warm feeling indeed.
As with many adventure games, a lot of the game’s challenge lies in getting all of your characters past a particular obstacle. One character might be able to dig under some boulders that are blocking the path, but now has to unlock an alternate route in order for the other characters to come along too. This experience is the meat of the game and is for the most part satisfying, although a few puzzles are repeated a little too often for my taste.
For the most part, the puzzles are fun and not too difficult to work out. The issue I have with the game however is its control scheme. Characters move in a block like fashion, sometimes making it difficult to perform complex manoeuvres or to attack enemies. Quite often I would find myself accidentally falling off of a platform or being unable to strike an enemy accurately because the controls were fighting against me. Luckily the game is fairly forgiving with its checkpoints (respawning at your last visited totem or at the beginning of a puzzle) and so it never became too frustrating. Games like Bastion really make the not so tight controls of a game like World to the West really stand out, and although it is far from unplayable, it certainly makes the game feel a lot less polished as a result.
I will say that the game is often quite easy. Those looking for a good challenge will be hard-pressed to find it here. Although the game has its moments, the fun is derived from seeing what else it has to offer or discovering the solution to the problems it lays out, rather than anything more clever than that.
Besides the issues with controls, the combat is fairly straightforward. Most enemies can be dispatched with a few basic attacks or simply avoided altogether. Enemies are mainly placed strategically throughout the map to allow for the mind-controlling character to use them to solve puzzles, and so unless specifically stated combat is pretty much a sideshow. An enemy for example might be able to hop forward significantly, and so being able to control them might allow you to get a key or an upgrade that was previously out of reach. The sight of seeing a little critter willingly hop towards you, prize in tow, is a pleasant (if a little sadistic) experience.
I have always been a big fan of games that are colourful, and games that choose a unique art style. World to the West has a wonderful aesthetic that is reminiscent of Wind Waker or perhaps Magika whilst still maintaining an original look all the same. Dialogue in the game is fairly typical for a game of its type, but I found myself grinning from time to time reading some of the exchanges, especially when the muscly Lord Clonington was on the screen.
For me the highlight of the game is its soundtrack. Made with recordings of live instruments it is both equally an enjoyable listen while also fitting perfectly with what is going on in game. I would often be humming along to the music, although when sticking in a particular area – say when you are stuck on a particularly tricky puzzle – the music can grate after a while.
The real meat of the game is its puzzles and its locations, and these are consistently enjoyable. The tried and tested mechanic of seeing an area that you can get into with the current character, telegraphs that you will be returning later with the right one. This never particularly felt forced and did encourage me to check every nook and cranny of the game in order to make sure that I didn’t miss anything in particular.
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned the story of World to the West yet and this is for a good reason. The story itself is about as bare-bones as it gets, but it works well enough to tie the experience together. Basically, your four characters have all been wronged by a primary antagonist who plans to make the world worse off than it currently is, and your goal is to stop him. As I said, bare-bones, but ultimately the draw of a game like World to the West is not its narrative at all and so don’t allow this to detract you from giving it a go.
In short, World to the West is a game that is great to look at and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Clocking in at about 8 hours of playtime, any more would of perhaps gotten old quickly. I look forward to what Rain Games are able to come up with in their next game, and I hope that they are able to make that a smoother experience all-in-all. If so, then I believe we will be in for a real winner of a title.