The instant I saw The Whispered World I knew it was one of those games that I was going to have to play. I'm a sucker for point-and-click adventures, and the promise of hand-drawn animations and backgrounds sucked me in like none other. Plus, with the likes of Sam & Max and Monkey Island moving into 3D and episodic releases seeing a game that just looked so terribly old-school excited me like none other.
The game began as a one-man graduation project, went through a developer and an attempt at freeware until finally being picked up by Daedalic Entertainment. It's had a bumpy road, but it launched two weeks ago, and after struggling to get my disgustingly slow computer to run it, I have played through it. Does The Whispered World hold up to its promise and join the ranks of classic 2D adventure gaming or is something lost despite the clear passion and love for the genre that the game exudes? Reading on will help you answer that question.
The Whispered World (PC)
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Viva Media
Released: April 28, 2010
One of the things I love about the point-and-click adventure genre is that it is one of the few genres where story plays an as important, if not more important, role than gameplay. Really the gameplay boils down to pointing and then clicking (thus making the genre really aptly named), so what stands out is the story and the writing. You can find obscure and random puzzles in a million different games and combining random objects until one works with another isn't really a "challenge" per se. What matters the most is the story and the characters and having good enough motivation to continue with your pointing and clicking.
So let us start with the story of The Whispered World. The player takes on the role of 12-year-old Sadwick the clown in a mystical land. Sadwick is depressed and feels like an outcast in all that he does. His family, consisting of his brother and grandfather, are circus folk and they have just stopped to set up shop when the story begins. Sadwick and his pet caterpillar Spot venture out to find people to enjoy the show, but they bump into a skinny messenger called a Chaski. After some tricky talk Sadwick ends up with an important artifact called the Whispering Stone, and must get it to the King in the city of Corona in order to save the world. However, after a prophecy is told to Sadwick it turns out that he might actually be headed to destroy the world. As such the game starts out pretty intriguing, and despite the fact that Sadwick is told he will destroy the world he ventures forth in an attempt to save it.
As far as stories go this one is actually pretty well constructed, until the end when it does start to fall apart a bit. It's an interesting twist that the quest you are on has been foretold to destroy the world, but Sadwick continues to hope that his actions will actually save it. Sadly, Sadwick doesn't quite live up to the story he's been put into. While his incessant whining works at some points at others it just gets really annoying. Almost everything he comments on has something to do with how hard his life is, and it makes for a few good punchlines, but by the end of the game it has just gotten old.
Luckily most of the characters around Sadwick are far more entertaining and creatively designed. From a pair of talking rocks to a pint-sized conductor, the characters that Sadwick meets along his journey are both creative and funny. I probably had the most fun during the game just working through branching dialogs to see what characters would say. Some of the writing is fantastically clever and I caught myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions. It isn't just funny writing either. The story skips along at a great pace, and while characters might ramble on here and there you can always click the mouse to skip over their talk if you're getting really bored.
You also might skip a bit because the voice acting is all over the place. Some of it really works and other parts are just bad. Sadwick himself seems to vary here and there, and before you get use to his voice it can be really aggravating. Still, it is worth your time to get use to the voice, and putting up with bad voice acting in an adventure game from a small developer is nothing new.
It's clear that the game's creators had a great world in mind, even if it does seem a bit stretched here and there. Sadly, some of the more serious sides of the game don't always feel like they fit in with the rest of the world. An overall theme about stagnation and lack of progress has fits of genius, but mostly gets clouded behind the game's comedic angles. In the end, though, the charming characters and evolving world win over the story and writing's flaws, pressing you further into the game easily.
When I was introducing the game's story above I described almost the entire first chapter of the game really (late spoiler warning, I suppose). The game as a whole is broken up into four chapters with each chapter being a sort of massive contained puzzle in itself. You lose your items at the beginning of each chapter and have to start from scratch. In total and takes around 20-25 hours to complete depending on your ability to figure out the warped logic of point-and-click adventure game's puzzles. Most of the story is told in-game, with a few animated sequences filling in gaps between chapters. Each world is divided up into different locations, and you, of course, travel them by clicking around the screen. It's all extremely old-school in its gameplay. It's easy to pick up a classic LucasArts' game vibe the second you start the game. Even if The Whispered World doesn't live up to most of those classics, the feeling is definitely there and it's one that is becoming harder and harder to come by.
One of the reasons that feeling is so strong is the gorgeous 2D scenes/settings that the game takes place in. Every time you enter a new area it seems that the artists have outdone themselves (though some character animation quality varies). It was almost a joy at times to be clicking desperately around the screen trying to find the objects I needed because it meant I got to examine the details of every hand painted background. The characters of the world almost seem to not live up to the quality of the world they are in, and until you get use to seeing what is a decidedly retro style of animation moving around they seem almost out of place. However, once you get use to the animation you realize they couldn't fit better. I would liken it to an early Disney cartoon like Snow White.
I suppose that discussing the gameplay might be important. It is mostly what you expect from a game in the genre, though the addition of Spot adds a bit of a twist. Spot can change forms (regular, heavy, fire, multiple balls, flat) and thus can be used to solve many of the world's puzzles. Far from just a replacement for more items however, Spot's changing ability actually creates some great puzzles that wouldn't be possible in most adventure games. The puzzles themselves bend logic to their own will (at one point you milk a cow that drank your oil and the oil comes out its udders) and can be increasingly aggravating in their misguided logic. However, that is pretty par for the course in games such as these,and the game routinely pokes fun and its own backasswards logic so I find it hard to find fault there. In fact I think it makes it feel all the more like a classic point-and-click adventure even if it forced me to use the walkthrough sent along with the game.
One minor gripe I have with the gameplay is actually another standard from classic games in the genre. Yet again too much depends on you finding a random item that is far to obscure in the scenery to ever be found by any other means than random clicking. I remember this always aggravating me back in the day, and it's no better now, especially when I know it can be done better. Adventure games should always lead you into things a bit with quality level design and possibly a hint or two. The Whispered World doesn't do this quite enough and you'll find it aggravating when you have no idea what to do. Then again, maybe I just suck at videogames.
I'd like to conclude by asking you to not take the score below as an indication that this game is bad. As it says right there, a 7.5 is good, and The Whispered World is a good game. While it has its problems here and there, many of which stem from the fact that it's produced by a small publisher, it is in fact a good point-and-click adventure at a very solid price. If you're a fan of the genre you are sure to have fun by picking this up, and if you're not one this would be a perfectly fine introduction. This isn't game of the year material here, but it is an enjoyable and solid little game.
Score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)
The Whispered World reviewed by Matthew Razak
A solid game that definitely has an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score: The Destructoid Reviews Guide