|Platforms||PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO|
|Release Date||May 5, 2017|
Review code provided
World to the West is a top-down adventure game set in the indie universe of Teslagrad, the previous title created by developer Rain Games. The game has players take control of four different characters – Lumina the Teslomancer, Miss Teri the mind-bending adventurer, Lord Clonington the strongman with a glorious moustache and Knaus the oprhan. Each has their own abilities and gameplay styles and each has their own interweaving narrative.
World to the West is an interesting approach to a sequel. Where Teslagrad was a 2D platformer with Metroidvania elements and a steampunk aesthetic, World to the West is a Zelda-style adventure game with a mix of puzzles and combat. Rather than make a direct follow-up to their previous work, Rain Games have completely upended their formula to create an altogether different kind of experience.
It’s a game with a lot of character. The protagonists (and many of the other characters you meet on your journey) are the highlight here. World to the West features an understated wit. It’s a lighthearted game that’s just as interested in poking fun at itself and its characters as it is in telling a story, which works to the game’s advantage. While the characters are larger than life their reactions to and interactions with the world around them felt natural.
While the main narrative is fairly interesting, however, it sure takes a while to actually feel like it’s going anywhere. One of the perils of having to introduce four new characters, each with their own storyline and motivations, takes up a huge chunk of World to the West’s running time. While the excellent characters and well constructed world will keep you from getting bored, you’ll probably find yourself wondering when the game will get to the point after a few hours.
While each of these characters are generally doing their own thing, they’re bound together by a prophecy involving totems with their faces on them. These totems are scattered throughout the world, acting as a plot hook, checkpoints and fast travel points. They are also the only place you can switch control between characters, when there are more than one available.
The way the totems work, or rather they way they can impede your progress, are a huge drawback for World to the West. This is thanks to the otherwise neat way environmental puzzle solving works. Generally you’ll need to make use of one characters unique abilities to progress through the world. This works quite nicely when you’re in control of a single character. While these puzzles are a bit on the simplistic side, World to the West has a pretty good pace and rhythm to it.
It’s when you need two characters working in tandem that the game becomes aggravating. You can only switch between characters at a totem. If you’re exploring with Lord Clonington, for example, and find your progress blocked by a pad that only Lumina can use, you’ll need to trudge all the way back to the previous totem to switch character. Then you’ll have to trudge back to the pad to continue on your way.
This is compounded by the second problem – characters can only travel to totems they themselves have visited. So once you’ve progressed with Lumina to the next totem and found a door only Clonington can break down, you’ll need to switch back to Clonington. Only he’s still waiting back at the first totem and needs to make his own way to the totem you’ve just reached as Lumina.
It’s a mechanic that becomes frustrating fairly quickly, making the game feel padded and repetitive just for the sake of it. Giving the player the ability to switch between characters freely or even just allowing them to fast travel between all visited totems, regardless of which character found them, wouldn’t have broken the gameplay loop at all. In fact, it would have improved it, removing the need for pointless back-and-forth-and-back-again grinding.
It’s an issue that gets more annoying the further into the game you go, as characters begin to team-up more frequently. When you’re only in control of a single character, World to the West flows quite nicely. The controls are pretty spot on, though I had some strange control issues trying to use a controller on PC, with the game refusing to map any controls to the buttons at all when I first started playing. Then giving me button prompts such as “1”, “2” and “3” when I was using an Xbox controller.
There are some quirks to the controls too. Moving to the edge of a ledge sees characters all too eager to jump off them, even when doing so will result in certain death. This can lead to a great many retries simply because I pushed up too close to the edge of a platform in anticipation for a jump. It’s also how I came to realise that the checkpoint system isn’t great. A lot of the time, once you’ve used up your health and are sent back to the last totem you visited, you’ll end up having to replay quite a bit of the game.
Aside from annoying suicide leaps the game’s movement controls work fairly well, though combat leaves a lot to be desired. Getting your character to face the right way for attacks is a challenge in itself. There were many times even the great Lord Clonington would be felled by the smallest creatures in the game simply because he kept punching around them.
A lot of enemies can luckily be bypassed by either running past them or with stealth, but when you get stuck in combat it can be a chore. The flimsy controls do make the game’s boss fights a pain, though. Getting past any particular boss is sometimes a matter of luck as much as skill. Especially one specific boss that requires you to hit sticks of dynamite at him with an accuracy that the game itself cannot provide you with.
Through it all, though, there is the soundtrack. A collection of soothing, memorable melodies that are an excellent accompaniment to your adventure through this Link To The Past-inspired adventure. When it’s firing on all cylinders and you’re exploring the fairly large, well drawn world or treated to some delightfully witty character interactions the game can feel great.
World to the West is a pretty good adventure held back by some fairly annoying flaws. Exploring the world as one of the four characters, without having to worry about playing an annoying game of leapfrog and backtracking, is a fun, almost serene experience, making it just about worth grinding through the parts of the game that enforce teamwork or force you to hit enemies. It’s a game I wanted to love thanks to its excellent soundtrack, delightful main cast and well designed world.
In the end I still liked it well enough, but it’s impossible to ignore the fairly sloppy controls and the strange design around characters switching and fast travel. Whenever I felt like I was getting into a rhythm the game yanked me back hard by making me constantly backtrack to swap between the characters I needed. It’s a decent adventure that has the potential to be so much more.
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