Having grown up on games like Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, I have a soft spot in my heart for platformers of all kinds. In recent years, however, they have become far less popular outside of the prominent Nintendo big names. Nevertheless, Wavetale, released on the Stadia in November of 2021, is coming to consoles and Steam on December 12 and is one of the most charming 3D Platformers I’ve played in recent years.
You play as Sigrid, the granddaughter of a lighthouse keeper in a world that’s primarily flooded. On top of all the water in their town of Strandville is a thick dark fog called Gloom, kept at bay by the various lighthouses powered by Spark. Once a fertile land, Strandville blames the current state of their world on the war with a group they call the Dirty Paws.
The plot is established almost immediately, and while it isn’t the most complicated story, it’s easy to understand. It isn’t long before the Gloom descends on Sigrid’s home, but she is saved by something people call a Shadow. While Sigrid appears unable to swim, the Shadow assists her by allowing her to walk along the water’s surface and even surf. Using the Shadow, Sigrid sets out to push the Gloom away from her home.
To that end, the gameplay of Wavetale is relatively simple. You begin the adventure with your entire movement kit. You can jump, double jump, dash, hover, sprint, and attack using your net in both quick and power attacks; you get the idea. After you meet the Shadow, these translate to your time on the water. While this game is action, the combat is simple, with very little enemy variety. It doesn’t feel bad, however. Sigrid attacks quickly and can move between multiple enemies, similar to the Arkham games. While combat is far from the focus, the system makes every encounter fun.
The real focus is entirely on the movement. While movement on land offers tight maneuverability, the water movement is some of the most fun I’ve had simply moving in a video game. Sigrid can run along the water’s surface, but the real joy is in surfing. Holding sprint on the water jets you across the waves on the Shadow’s back.
This movement is fast, fun, and extremely easy to control. You can charge your jumps while surfing to give you more air, and jumping at the crest of waves will launch you even further. Jumping from high up or wave jumping can cause Sigrid to blow purple for a moment. Holding sprint while purple will have her dive into the water at full speed, even faster than normal surfing. The movement steals the show in every way, and there are obstacles and such to play with as you travel from place to place.
Sigrid’s net isn’t just for smacking monsters. You can also use this electric net to whip yourself onto hooks, ledges, and even taller enemies. Like everything else, this can be done on land and in the water. Not only does this make the already smooth movement even cleaner, but it can also be used as a combat tool. As stated before, the combat is far from deep or varied, but the movement tools ensure that it’s never unfun.
The real charm comes from the characters and the graphics themselves. Wavetale looks and feels like a Playstation 2 or Gamecube-era game. Everything has a heavy cell-shading and leans far more into being almost cartoonish. To add its own spice, everyone’s face is hand-drawn and animated in a sketch style.
Character expressions make scenes incredibly easy to follow and add an extraordinary charm and personality. The characters are diverse, with various skin tones, attitudes, and orientations. Most characters give you small quests that flesh them out a little further. My only complaint is that these side characters don’t get more screen time or dialogue outside their first meeting and quests.
Completing quests and exploring will grant you mini sparks, the game’s currency. These can be spent at Bain’s Boat for cosmetics for Sigrid, including different clothes, hair colors, and hats. These can be mixed and matched as you wish and changed any time you visit Bain, who tends to follow you around the islands. While these cosmetics don’t appear in cutscenes, it’s still fun to surf around with a skeleton suit and a shark hat.
While I had an absolute blast, Wavetale is tragically short. Even after completing the character book, every quest, and each race, I still beat it in roughly 5 hours. After clearing, you get a Freeplay mode to explore, but the map itself is tiny, samey, and bare, especially for the price. Each chunk of the main islands is separated by, effectively, a water hallway with various obstacles, with the occasional character to give you a quest.
Unfortunately, even these quests are rather “copy and paste,” having you find random items on island ruins. The fun characters and the fantastic movement are the only things keeping both the world and quests tolerable. There are also journal entries to flesh out the world, but these require exploring, which is a joy. Without going out of my way, I got the Platinum Trophy on PS4 without any trouble.
Even with the flaws in the design, and a few objects popping in on occasion, Wavetale was an absolute joy to play. From the charming graphics and characters to the amazing freedom of movement, the adventure Sigrid and the Shadow go on to discover the truth of their home is one I’m happy I got to experience.
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