Strandville may look like an ideal destination spot, but this archipelago of islands, lighthouses and patchwork homes, is built upon the sunken skeleton of an older city, one swallowed up by the waves in a war that decimated two countries and released the Gloom into the world. The Gloom, an unexplained sentient darkness, is slowly covering what we know of the world.
After an attack on her lighthouse, Sigrid gains the ability to walk on water thanks to a mysterious, underwater creature. This puts her in the unique position to help the leftover remnants of humanity living in Strandville and, possibly, stop the Gloom once and for all.
Wavetale is a narrative-focused third-person action platformer with a semi-open world setting. Its unique mechanic is that you, as Sigrid, can walk on water and surf the ocean in spectacular fashion. Along with this mechanic, Sigrid has a Spark Net that is both your melee weapon and grapple hook, which adds to the game’s platforming design.
For the most part, Wavetale is rather traditional in its environment navigation when you’re on land. Saving the world usually means you have to capture sparks to restart generators or fight Gloom monsters wherever they may appear. Owing to the way humanity has adjusted to a waterlogged world, most of the architecture is built upon a sprawling art design that towers over the ocean, climbing along and above rocks and bringing the ascending platforming action to the fore and making you wonder if anyone has ever heard of stairs.
Sigrid can double jump and, using her Spark Net, glide long distances, all of which are essential for navigating the sprawling, sporadic landmasses. Throwing some verve into the platforming and actually making it exhilarating, are broken pipes that you can grind through to either ascend towers faster or get a nice speed boost to cover larger volumes of the area quickly. These can loop around buildings, and sometimes even bosses, to throw you into moments where you have to jump from them, latch onto moving hooks or grapple platforms in one motion. They’re a wonderful break from the traditional double jump from platform to platform.
That’s not to say that traditional platforming is boring. If anything it’s all rather fun as you make your way along the sides of buildings, climbing to the top of a lighthouse just to get a view of the vast ocean world you’re a part of. It’s usually a reward in itself to make it to the top of something and then glide down or dive back into the waves below.
Combat, of which there is a fair amount, is rather simple. You have a series of combos, a dodge and a heavy ground slam you can do, but none of the encounters is particularly challenging. Nor, for that matter, is the platforming. Wavetale feels as though the developers were more interested in presenting you with a game that ignites your wonder rather than challenges you, a game anyone could jump into, play and finish, and I can’t complain about that. While I found the game easy, I was never bored by the lack of challenge, if anything it was cathartic as I simply enjoyed the process of exploring the world, meeting its characters and marvelling at just how much fun and pleasurable it was to enjoy a game that made me want to travel to its furthest shoals just to see what was there.
That enjoyment comes in no small part to Wavetales biggest mechanic: its water walking. The game’s Ocean system is a wonder to behold and it’s never anything less than exhilarating to take Sigrid out onto the waves. Whether you’re walking around, slowly gliding across its surface or rushing through the highest wave crests at speed, it’s a glorious and empowering feeling of freedom. So much so that I spent plenty of time just surfing around, banking to the left or right and grabbing massive air through a powered-up jump to land back into a speedy surf down the backside of a cresting wave. And it looks glorious to boot.
When you aren’t surfing the waves, there are sidequests, which are of the fetch quest variety and races to engage in. Scattered across the environment are journal entries for you to pick up and, finally, you can buy cosmetic items to dress Sigrid up in.
Wavetale is, visually, a beautiful game. There’s a laid-back vibe to the game and its inhabitant’s lifestyle that is enhanced by its stylised and brightly coloured visuals. Simple texturing helps to give the game a fairy tale aesthetic of what an Oceanside life must be like. Characters’ faces are animated with textures rather than full facial modelling and the lighting system gives the world a wonderful, overcast, sun-soaked feeling like you could grab a towel and go lay down on the docks all day.
Where the visuals and animation truly shine are on the ocean and Sigrid herself. Even with its cartoony cel-shaded look, the water animation and texturing look superb and layered and you can see the colour and layers change as you look deeper into the depths. Wake trails surround Sigrid as she moves, flowing behind her while fish swim along with her as she glides across the surface. Diving from a high point lets you swim through the deep while jumps are followed by water trails as you leave the surface. It’s quite exhilarating and serene in motion.
The Switch version of the game has been toned back a bit though. There’s a fair amount of pop-in on objects while the sunshine, which changes the closer you get to the Gloom or clear it out, doesn’t update slowly so much as pops-in. The game is also using lower polygon models but the visual aesthetic still comes through strong. They’re small niggles in what is a gorgeous package.
Wavetales narrative is a strong and heartfelt one. While the game’s environmental message is anything but subtle, its message about the dangers of environmental destruction for greed and profit is as relevant as they’ve ever been. There’s clearly a reason that the Gloom and its monsters look like sentient oil or that one of the bosses looks like an oil drilling pipe comes to life. But the game is also about loss and reconciliation and it’s these smaller, more personal narrative beats that struck harder.
With great platforming, a wonderful, message-driven narrative and a fantastic movement system, Wavetale is a serene, charming and enjoyable experience across a wonderful ocean environment that is well worth your time.
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia, Xbox Series X and Series S
Developers: Thunderful Group, Thunderful Development, Zoink Games
Publishers: Thunderful Group, Thunderful Publishing
Reviewed on Switch and Xbox
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