Wandersong is a bold, joyous musical adventure which radiates charm. Starting from humble beginnings as a lowly bard you set out on an epic, world spanning quest to save the world, armed with the power of song and an unwavering optimism.
One of the game’s biggest strengths is in the way it constantly reinvents and plays with its core mechanic. The bard’s singing ability is simple, intuitive and thoroughly original with a colour coded wheel representing individual notes on a scale. Call and response patterns act in place of combat, and soon give way to evermore creative iterations, from note matching rhythm games to contextual platforming mechanics. One level has you controlling the direction of the wind with your voice, while others have you illuminate the darkness or alter the state of the level’s surfaces to progress.
Platforming can feel a little rudimentary and while not every twist on the core mechanic hits the mark, gameplay is always fresh and fun enough for this to be a minor issue. Some deceptively hard puzzles encourage you to use your singing ability in new ways, interacting with objects throughout the environment to learn and memorize a song pattern needed at the level’s end. Even when a new play style is introduced the wheel mechanic adapts effortlessly, a fitting testament to the elegance of its design.
As a game centred around music and song, Wandersong thankfully features an excellent soundtrack by Vancouver based composer A Shell in the Pit. Wistful plucked strings and shimmering synths collide in a glorious cacophony, with the sonic influences of Koji Kondo merging seamlessly with more contemporary sound palettes. The Bard’s sweet falsetto vocals front this score, making each song contextual and integral to the fabric of this world. Music is expertly harnessed throughout your adventure both in a typical sense as an asset of atmosphere and as a functional character in the narrative, making for some the game’s most moving and magical moments.
Split into acts, the game’s story is superbly constructed and paced. The first few acts have you helping out villagers and performing seemingly mundane tasks, before opening up as the scope and scale of your quest becomes apparent. Traveling the world’s many kingdoms to gain each part of the world saving Earthsong proves to be pretty a big deal and the game’s self-aware nature plays with the hero’s journey and its well-worn tropes. Always outshined by Audrey, the sword wielding chosen one, The Bard’s struggle to save the world without violence turns into an introspective journey about overcoming your own obstacles to succeed.
Audrey often steals your thunder or undermines your hard-earned progress, and some clever meta devices reflect this dynamic. The Bard’s passive approach entails fetch quests and dialogue while Audrey’s agency revolves around getting things done quick with a big sword. Equally as The Bard trophies are hard to come by but the second Audrey turns up you are bombarded with them for everything from jumping 10 times to felling killing 20 enemies. Ultimately though the power of friendship, song and positivity prove mightier than the sword, and while this story can be sentimental and cheesy at times its sarcasm and self-deprecation balance it out perfectly.
Tales of lost ghost princesses, caffeine addicted pirates and dystopian cities oppressed corporations exemplify the game’s blend of poignant storytelling and darkly whimsical humour. Its paper cut-out art style and childlike cheer contrast with the dire, apocalyptic circumstances to great effect, accentuating the highs and lows of The Bard’s journey. While reminiscent of Oxenfree and Night in the Woods, both in the tone and quality of its writing and the depth of its characters, Wandersong is its own distinct oddity.
By the end of my 9 hour journey, I had grown a great affection for my Bard, who I named Gart, and found myself especially invested in his relationship with the angsty witch Miriam. The nuance and honesty of their relationship is relatable and refreshing, and its slow burn made it all the more impactful. As the credits rolled and the Earthsong resounded around the world, invigorating it with sound and colour, I found myself a little teary eyed yet beaming with delight. Wandersong is an ambitious and inspiring indie game, which marries the joy of music and storytelling to create something pure, genuine and celebratory.
Wandersong PS4 Review
- Overall - Must Buy - 9/109/10
Wandersong is a joyous musical adventure. This refreshingly original adventure blends platforming and rhythm games to great effect to deliver a charming tale filled with humour and heart.
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Reviewed using PS4 Pro.