Wandersong released for Xbox One and Game Pass December 6th and if you’re new to Greg Lobanov’s charming puzzle adventure game, stop reading right now and start the download. I’ll wait. I learned how to in the Castle of Order.
There is a lot to enjoy about Wandersong. First and foremost, you get to play a bard. This is no typical hack ‘n slash platformer, no no. You sing. You dance. You pet dogs. You serenade your enemies.
Frankly, it’s fracking adorable.
It took me a few rounds to get a handle on Wandersong‘s mechanics. This is especially true for the more time-sensitive challenges. I had a hard time with the concert in Delphi; the music doesn’t 100% match with what you “sing” in-game. However, it’s not so clunky that it kept me from enjoying the gameplay. If anything, I had to get over the “if you push harder it will work better/faster/stronger” expectation so ingrained in me and learn to play with finesse.
It even tips its hat to long-held favorites, such as Zelda. I actually laughed out loud when I solved a puzzle on a certain island and heard an adapted version of Link’s treasure chest jingle. The puzzles are challenging, but not impossible to solve. I appreciate that there aren’t a lot of hints. The gameplay is so elegant that the few times I encountered glitches in the port, I simply assumed I was missing some piece of the puzzle.
One of my favorite features was finding Mask (above) in each act so I could learn a new dance move. (I was doing the Caramelldansen across the screen constantly. I’m still kicking myself that I missed the Dab.) This feature is entirely inefficacious yet hilarious, though there are a few moves that’ll push Bard across the screen faster.
Lil’ Bard’s movin’ and a-groovin’ aside, Wandersong has a compelling narrative. At the outset, you encounter a spirit testing you to see if you are “The Hero.” Unable to wield the sword with any semblance of efficacy, it’s pretty clear you’re not. Bard is disappointed, but not defeated. He presses on to learn the pieces of the Earthsong from each Overseer before the world’s end. Without giving away too many spoilers, the game subverts the Hero trope in a heartfelt way. the narrative plays on themes of life/death, creation/destruction, choice/fate, self-worth/calling, and hope/despair. Yes, all of that, and then some.
The dialogue is very witty. Some NPCs, like Captain Lucas of the Lady Arabica, had me rooting for them from the word go. Others, like Elmer featured below, prompted me to recoil straight through the couch cushions. In some ways, it has a Lemony Snicket-vibe: cartoonishly fallible authority figures, unknowingly in the middle of choices larger than themselves.
Something that really caught me off-guard was the parallel between the Bard and the Hero. At one point, the player actually gets to play as Audrey, the Hero chosen by Eya. Suddenly, your Xbox begins alerting you with the familiar achievement notifications. Achievements you…don’t earn when you’re the Bard. In later encounters (I won’t go into specifics) she continues to earn achievements you have no control over. This is brilliant because her actions are ones you’re used to being rewarded for.
There are multiple places in which all that’s necessary is persistence to continue. In some scenes, I was unsure whether I was supposed to provoke a character or wait for them to continue talking. The game asks you to intuit each character’s needs, rather than prompting you with them. The mechanic is so subtle you could easily miss it.
Finally, the game’s conclusion isn’t technically the end. (Look forward to some fun scenes during the credits.) I found it to be a really delightful way to wrap up some of the narrative threads.
I think this is one of the best indie games I’ve played since Never Alone and Child of Light. It’s inventive, clever, and conveys unexpected depth within its cheery exterior. There were a few glitches that needed patching. For example, in Act 4, Scene 28 you have to jump from platform to platform without hitting the descending walls. The platforms were placed so far apart that I couldn’t manage the jumps as demonstrated in other lets plays. After a game refresh, the platforms were spaced normally and I could complete the level just fine.
The one glitch I couldn’t reboot my way through, however: the final scene. Once again, to Lobanov’s credit, I wasn’t sure if it really was a glitch at first, or if I was merely failing to solve a puzzle. It wasn’t until one of my stream viewers noticed the music was repeating in a stilted way that I recognized the fault. I encountered the glitch on 12/11, but it was patched on 12/17.
All-in-all, this is one of my new favorite indie game ports of 2019. I definitely plan on purchasing the LP in the near future.
If you’re needing a bit of a boost this winter, 100% pick up Wandersong. Even the friends we had staying with us enjoyed watching it and continually asked me about the conclusion after they left. Pieces like Wandersong continue to demonstrate that video games are, in fact, art.