STAFF REVIEW of Wavetale (Xbox One)

Friday, January 20, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Wavetale Box art I love video games! There is something special about being able to escape into worlds far removed from your real life. To take part in epic adventures or build a life and make new friends. To explore new worlds and get lost for a few hours in something completely different than what you do daily. Thunderful Games is well known for their fantastic indie games, and I am always quick to snap up a review title if it’s from them. Wavetale caught my eye, for multiple reasons, but the fact that it was water/ocean related made it a must review. You’d be hard pressed to find many games that don’t have some sort of water in it, but Wavetale dives into the deep end by allowing you to literally run, walk and glide on water. This 3rd person action-adventure title was originally released exclusively on Google Stadia in 2021 but has now made its way to PC and consoles and is one of the more relaxing and enjoyable games I’ve played in some time.

Wavetale takes place in the aptly named small town of Strandville that is literally surrounded by water. A lonely lighthouse stands against the storm. You play as Sigrid, a feisty, sarcastic and cynical young woman whose temperament is on full display through the voiceover actors sighs and mumbles under her breath. Sigrid naturally wants to explore the world, the wide ocean surrounds Strandville but her grandmother won’t even let her dip a toe into the water because of the dark and foreboding “Gloom” (clouds) that is omnipresent. It’s a tale as old as time. Young person wants to stretch their wings and fly and see the world but they are warned of many dangers. Sigrid has lost both of her parents and that is why her grandmother is overprotective.

Eventually Sigrid gets to see the world, but not entirely by her own choice. The first chapter (tutorial) has you searching your island home for ‘sparks’ for your grandmother. These are an energy source in the form of cute little blobs of electricity. Upon completing the first mission for Grandma, a tidal wave hits your town and you are thrown onto a patch of land. From here, Sigrid meets a mysterious underwater creature, which mirrors her every movement from under the surface of the water. This allows her to walk, run and even surf across the surface of the ocean. Eventually your grandmother allows you to venture out into the world to try to collect more sparks and money, and this is where the story truly begins.

You are off to save the world from the Gloom that is taking over everything and collect the sparks to help clear the Gloom and provide electricity to the inhabitants you encounter. With your trusty, technologically advanced net in your hands, you set off to complete quests and puzzles, defeat enemies and restore power to locals and unravel the mystery behind your mother’s death. It wouldn’t be a dramatic indie without having some sort of mystery to solve. The banter between Grannie (who is always in contact via headset) and Sigrid is delightful and full of water puns.

Zipping around the ocean was the most fun part of Wavetale in my opinion. It was more than just a mode of transportation; it was relaxing, freeing and just downright fun. The splish splash sounds of the water lapping at your feet and the music picking up tempo as you sped along, all gave me a real feeling of surfing or wave riding. It put a smile on my face from the first time I encountered it. Although the pace does pick up during missions and through some simple combat, the main focus of Wavetale is leisure. I’m not even remotely embarrassed to admit I spent time just zipping around on the water. Moving around the water is easy with the frequent and convenient placement of ramps and springs as well as places to grapple.

Gameplay follows a more traditional format with a main quest and some side quests and optional collectibles. Most missions involve opening up areas or saving people from the evil liquid ‘Gloom’ that surrounds everything. It’s like a sort of ooze that you hit with your net to dissipate. Sometimes when you find and rescue these characters they will give you an additional side quest, normally a fetch quest. Gameplay is fluid and intuitive, mechanically it’s quite simple. Missions and puzzles test basic skills like double jumps, gliding and grappling to get to different platforms to activate switches and levers. You can hover/fly using your net by spinning it like a helicopter blade.

Health regenerates without needing food or rest, and even when multiple enemies approach you at the same time, they wait their turn to attack. Boss fights are more about speed and movement, and less about your combat skill. You can literally button mash and beat the baddies in combat. It must take a lot of hits to die, as I don’t think I died once in the 4–5 hour playthrough. The biggest challenge I found in Wavetale were the timed challenges from Asta. You must navigate a route in a certain time limit and is not very forgiving. But if you plan correctly there are enough time boosts to collect to make it. Mastering these took the most time and concentration in the game, but it was very rewarding once you completed them, even if some took more attempts than I care to admit.

Visually, Wavetale looks like a paint by number book you might work through when trying to calm your mind. I mean that in a good way. Beautiful cel shaded pastel colours, and drawn to create a sense of whimsy, it was easy to fall in love with the world and surroundings. Between sea and sky there is a vast array of blue colours used. The coastal design included some typical features you’d see in coastal communities and lent itself to a bit of familiarity to me growing up near the ocean. I found a lot of comfort and nostalgia washing over me with the choice of drawing, although I’m not exactly sure what animation from my past it reminded me of.

There are some customization options for Sigrid in game and you can buy items in game with coins found. One thing I didn’t like was that even though I customized my Sigrid, she showed as the original default Sigrid in cutscenes, a slight disappointment. On top of the gorgeous visuals lies a superb soundtrack, composed by Joel Bille, and fantastic voice acting for Sigrid and her grandmother.

I didn’t run into too many technical issues while playing Wavetale on my Series X, but did find at times the camera would circle around behind Sigrid randomly and be behind something in the world so I couldn’t see myself or where I was trying to go. This left me jumping into the voice and hitting my grapple, hoping for the best. Sometimes it worked and sometimes I ended at the base of whatever tower I was trying to climb to begin again.

There is a simplicity with Wavetale that makes it really hard not to love. It favours freedom and movement over complex skill trees and combat. It's unfortunate that Wavetale likely fell under a lot of people’s radars since it was a Google Stadia exclusive, but I am hoping now that it will gain more attention. Thunderful Games has put an interesting spin on a post apocalyptic world with something that wasn’t dark, evil and scary, but rather joyful and beautiful in its own way. It’s a simply delightful game.

Thunderful Games has written a game about family, loss, self discovery and also about how we impact our environment. Wavetale culminates in an emotional ending and the story tugs at your heartstrings as you move along. The grandmother telling the story about losing her soulmate was particularly moving for me.

Wavetale is relaxing, beautifully drawn and has a superb soundtrack. It can and will suit a wide gaming audience regardless of skill level, and with it’s quick runtime it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Other than wishing the camera movement were a bit less finicky, I can’t really find too many faults with Wavetale and am looking forward to logging in and skipping around the ocean again when I need a reprieve from the real world.

**Wavetale was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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