The original Pikmin came out twenty years ago. Whilst the franchise never became a huge hit for Nintendo, it at least garnered cult success along with a very loyal fanbase.
As such, it’s a surprise that there haven’t been more games inspired by this classic. Aside from the recently reviewed Hotel Transylvania 3: Monsters Overboard, I can’t really think of any others … at least until now.
The Wild at Heart is essentially an indie take on the Pikmin formula, but that’s not to say it’s completely derivative. The game quite clearly does its own thing, and benefits from it.
If you’re a fan of Nintendo’s floral classic, you won’t want to miss out on this one.
BLOOM OF THE WILD
The Wild at Heart is a puzzle adventure game that follows two young children, Wake and Kirby, who have run away from home (presumably because their parents gave them such stupid names). After getting lost in the forest, Wake stumbles across a strange old man and some magical creatures, and so begins his through the Deep Woods.
It’s a charming tale, and it’s a nice departure from the ‘collect fruit for money’ storylines of the Pikmin series. There’s a lot of lore and mystery to the Deep Woods, with characters having strange descriptive names (such as Gray Coat, whose coat is more of a greenish-brown) and magical powers that allow them to manipulate the world. It’s really intriguing and you’re always wanting to find more out about the woods as you continue to explore. The game continually raises more questions about what is going on, and whilst you won’t have all your questions answered, it does tie up quite nicely at the end.
One thing that did surprise me about the storyline though, was just how dark it all gets. You obviously expect for things to have dark undertones considering the children have run away from home, but the darkness of the forest at nighttime shifts the game into something resembling a horror game as an evil spirit starts to pursue you through the woods, killing all your spriteling friends with a single swipe of its claw. It’s terrifying stuff, and it makes you eager to seek out your camp when night is approaching – even if you don’t necessarily have to.
GET THE RIGHT SPRITE
As you would expect from a game like this, the majority of the game is spent exploring the world, with more of it opening up as you progress. Things start out slow, with the basic Twiglings making up your army for a lot of the early game. Controlling them is relatively straightforward, with a single button used to toss them one at a time at objects or enemies. There’s no swarm function here, so instead you’re limited to flinging them as fast as you can hammer the button. It can be a little annoying given the frequency you’ll be doing so, but it’s functional at least. Aside from throwing minions at stuff, Wake isn’t completely useless as he has access to his own vacuum machine gizmo that he has named the Gustbuster. At first glance, it seems like a replacement for the whistle so you can [clumsily] recall your spritelings; however, it has far more utility than that. You can use the Gustbuster to pull down trees, flip over certain enemies, clear away leaf piles, and so on. It’s a neat way of adding some extra strategy and puzzling into the game and making your character seem worthwhile. Things get more complicated once you meet up with Kirby, as you’ll often have to separate to solve puzzles. Kirby is able to crawl through tight spaces, so you’ll often need to separate and pass spritelings to one another. It never gets overly difficult, but I did appreciate the extra depth it added to the puzzling.
Even though the puzzling never poses much of a challenge (aside from one crafting puzzle that is very badly signposted), combat proves to be a little bit tougher. There are a handful of different enemy types, each with different variations, and you’ll be encouraged to use certain spritelings to overcome them. Tougher enemies may require you to deal with them a little bit more strategically, with the Gustbuster providing an essential tool, but many can be brute forced through – just expect to lose a lot of your troops. Crafting objects definitely helps with combat, as you can create protective shields for your troops, or even kettle bombs to deal with enemies, but it’s rarely needed. The combat mostly feels a little shallow for the most part, with rewards for beating enemies being a little negligible for the effort you need to put in. Combat is never a hassle, but it’s rarely rewarding either – especially as the game lacks any real boss encounters, aside from the final fight. Considering how great the exploration and puzzling is in the game, I hope the developers can focus on enhancing the combat if we ever get a The Wild at Heart 2 in the future!
Where the game really shines though is in its presentation. Environments look beautiful, even if there isn’t a huge amount of variety in the different areas; there are frozen mountains and caves, but the vast majority of the game will be spent in familiar woodlands. It’s rarely a problem, but it would have been nice to see things mixed up a little bit more. Characters are all weird and brimming with personality, but they’re nothing compared to the cute little spritelings that accompany you on your journey. Spritelings come in a variety of flavours: you start with Twiglings, which are your generic jack of all trades spritelings; but a little later you will encounter the Emberlings, which are not only heat resistant, but they’re also able to set certain things on fire. These two will make up your workforce for the majority of the first half of the game, but the second half introduces a few more types. You’ll obtain the predictable ice variations to go alongside their fiery colleagues, but the final two are far less predictable and are probably my favourite spritelings in the entire game. All the spritelings have their strengths and weakness, so you’ll need to think carefully before you use them, but they are all absolutely adorable and you’ll hate to lose even a single one.
Quite appropriately, given the title, the game has a lot of heart but also has some great gameplay to go along with it. There may be some irritating control quirks, and combat might not be as satisfying as it could be, but I am sure that Pikmin fans will gobble this right up. The Wild at Heart is a charming experience and it feels right at home on the Switch.