Google Stadia was an interesting experiment ultimately doomed to failure. Not because of being a cloud gaming console, as I have a feeling that is here to stay despite its imperfect infrastructure at the moment, but more due to Google’s tendency to drop new gimmicks at the drop of a hat unless it’s an instant success.
As such, those Stadia exclusives – such as Wavetale – were inevitably going to find their way to other consoles at some point.
The question is, was the game worth waiting for – or should t have gone down with the ship?
Many thanks to Thunderful for the review code.
DOOM AND GLOOM
Wavetale tells the story of an almost-post-apocalyptic world that has found itself sunken after an entity known as The Gloom starts taking everything over like a plague. With only a handful of small islands dotted around with few inhabitants, the survivors are left to fend off the darkness using lighthouses that are powered by blue blobby things known as sparks.
One day, after a little spark hunting, The Gloom hits the island where the protagonist, Sigrid, and her grandmother live which causes the teenager to be stranded in the middle of the ocean. This is where she meets a shadowy figure under the water who helps her to get back to shore by offering the soles of her feet for Sigrid to walk on. With the shadow mirroring Sigrid’s movement, this effectively allows her to run across the water freely and escape her almost certain doom. With her newfound ability, Sigrid sets off on a journey to help the other islands fight off The Gloom and find a way to get rid of it once and for all.
It’s a surprisingly short tale, coming in at around four hours or so, but it also tells a very tight story that weaves in a chronicles regarding generations past, bickering human factions, mysterious shadows, and personal self-growth. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but the game does it with aplomb and allows the game’s pacing to never let up. It also helps too that the characters are believable and have some pretty good voice acting to boot, making the narrative one of the strongest elements of the game.
WALKING ON WATER
Sigrid’s ability to run across the vast ocean shapes the rest of the game, and is as glorious as it sounds. Speeding across the water at ridiculous speeds never ceases to be satisfying, and when combined with her ability to double jump, climb, grapple and dive all make for an excellent moveset that is extremely rewarding to use.
It helps too that the controls are also extremely tight, with the dive ability being key to the ease of the platforming. Not only do you have the usual shadow to guide your landing, but Sigrid will also have a pink tint while in the air above water indicating that you can dive into the ocean below; this also has the reverse advantage of having an easy tell for when you’re above solid land and it’s extremely intuitive to use.
Platforming will make up the bulk of the experience, as you run to the next objective and traverse the platforming challenges to achieve your goal. There’s not a whole lot of variety in the platforming, with the slides, cannons, and moving platforms making up the vast majority from start to finish, but it also never gets particularly old either. The objectives also follow a very similar format too, with activating switches, collecting sparks, and rescuing people from goo making up 90% of the experience. There are side missions too for some monetary rewards, but given that these usually boil down to the same things and give you more currency than you’ll ever need, I found that there wasn’t a real need to pursue any that required you going out of your way.
Most of your objectives can be achieved by a simple swing of your net, and that pretty much sums up the whole combat experience too. The Gloom also manifests itself as goopy creatures that can be disposed by a few smacks to the head with your net. Whilst there are a few boss-like encounters that require a little bit more effort, everything else can be dealt with in pretty much the same way. It’s rather dull and adds an unfortunate level of repetition to encounters, but thankfully many can be avoided by simply continuing on with what you came to do in the first place.
But even with the repetition of the game’s mechanics, you just won’t mind it most of the time. The story is really well told, and the movement mechanics never get tiresome – especially as you’re zooming about this beautiful world. The breathtaking visual really help captivate you as you’re zipping and sliding around from island to island across beautiful ocean with its crashing waves. It brings back feelings of playing The Wind Waker or Bowser’s Fury; in fact, structurally the game is a little reminiscent of the latter as The Gloom will prevent your progression until you find a way to clear it out and get to the next area. Wavetales is far more linear due to the focus on its plot, but it never really feels linear.
The beautiful aesthetics also extends to the rest of the world too as well as the interesting character design. The characters are slightly spoiled due to their weird flat faces that looked like pencilled emojis, but thankfully it’s not distracting enough to spoil the game’s aesthetic.
What does spoil it are some of the physics glitches that can occur with boats that just can’t deal with the wave physics of the ocean. The ocean is constantly bobbing up and down, which really helps add to the excitement of sprinting across the water, but it also causes the game’s ships to completely bug out. One mission sees you escorting a group of ships, and seeing the group of them bouncing uncontrollably proved hilarious. Thankfully these issues do not affect progression and just damper the overall presentation, as everything else – including the game’s smooth framerate – is absolutely fine.
Wavetale offers a relaxing platforming experience with some top notch movement mechanics and a great story. Repetition does start to set it in at times, even with the game’s short runtime, but not enough to stop it from being a great time.