STAFF REVIEW of Whateverland (Xbox One)

Monday, October 9, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Whateverland Box art Caligari Games promised us that Whateverland would give us the opportunity to be whatever we wanted to be. Seems straightforward, but I also had no idea what that meant when I embarked on this point-and-click adventure. Initially released on PC in September 2022, it’s now made its way to consoles one year later. As someone who doesn’t always pay attention to games coming just to PC, I will admit I was intrigued by this one when I saw a friend playing it on stream last year, but never took the leap to try it until now.

The story begins when Vincent breaks into a home and steals a necklace. While he is successful in procuring this item, he finds out that the woman who owns the home has been watching him, and she is, in fact, a witch. She banishes him to a strange land (Whateverland) for his crimes. While Whateverland has an overarching main story of getting the main character, Vincent, back home after being sent to this strange world, the remainder of the story takes part in multiple mini stories. These mini-stories and their characters were the majority of the game, each one different and engaging and requiring different sets of skills to progress through.

At the beginning of the game, you save Nick (who is clearly a Shakespeare knockoff), who becomes your companion and sort of guide as you move throughout Whateverland. He brings a lot of depth and humour to what is normally a very linear type of game genre. Nick tells Vincent that every resident is trapped in Whateverland because of something they did that the witch didn’t like. While this is true, you won’t find out until later in the game the degree of what the characters did. Some of the characters are just awful people overall, while others simply annoyed the witch. Beatrice (the witch) doesn’t seem to have a consistent punishment system in place.

Vincent in his own way is a thoughtful and complex character. You control whether he should move through conversations and situations in the “good boy” manner or the “thief route”. Immediately this leads you to the knowledge that the game has some replayability. While I primarily played Vincent as a caring and thoughtful guy (I believe the world, in general, needs more goodness in it and it’s often more difficult to be good in games) there was something completely satisfying at times when I just let him break into places and steal too. The dialogue choices are clearly marked so you know which one to choose if you are trying to get a specific ending. There are two of them in the game. If you aren’t set on trying to get one particular ending, just pick what feels best in any situation and let the cards fall where they may.

While I won’t dive into details about the side stories, please watch for Francois’ story. It was full of dark humour and I enjoyed it. One thing I wish I had was more time with each character, as I found that I didn’t get enough time with any of them to really flush out the full characters. I think I spent about 10-15 minutes with each of them.

I’m not entirely sure how to explain some of the gameplay in Whateverland. You must go from location to location collecting things and using them in other scenes. It’s basically puzzles within puzzles. That’s the best way to describe it. For example, you might need a key from one location, but in order to get that person to give you the key you need to find something for them. In order to get that item, you may have to hack into a computer, safe, etc. For some of the items, you’ll need to beat them at a board game, called Bell and Bones, within the game. Bell and Bones was a sort of strategy-based soccer game, where you have limited moves each round.

Even with a tutorial, I took a long time trying to figure this out. Once I got the hang of it though, I quite enjoyed it. The objective is to score your bell onto the opposing team's spoon. You do this my manipulating a team of bones, each can only move in certain ways, similar to other strategy-based games. Whether you choose to play aggressively or defensively is up to you. As I’ve seen in the past with other games pulling mini-games from them and them becoming full-fledged releases, like Gwent from the Witcher 3, I could definitely see Bell and Bones becoming a full release unto itself. One particularly funny note here is that if you get frustrated, and you’ve managed to collect balls of yard from around town, you can call in a cat “the paw of God” to swipe everything off the board resulting in you winning the game.

Ultimately your goal is to find and collect all 7 pieces of the spell pages throughout Whateverland and escape to get home. The fact that each of these puzzles/tasks was unique helped keep Whateverland interesting. While each challenge wasn’t particularly difficult, the mechanics were fun to figure out. I think my favourite task was when I got to make ramen, even though I made it incorrectly the first time from not understanding the controls. It was a nice way to incorporate my love of cooking games in here. I also enjoyed the game where I got to sort fish at the market. Some other tasks you may complete are fixing a radio tower, repairing ventilation, composing a chapter of a story or a jazz tune, and even giving a merman a tattoo. Now, remember that doing the tasks for the people is considered the “good boy” route. You can always just use your trusty lockpicks and break in and steal the spell pieces you’re looking for. Lockpicking was also slightly frustrating, as you have 4 tools in your kit, but you aren’t told what any of them do, so it’s just trial and error. Whichever path you choose, good or bad, will determine the types of puzzles you get as well as your options available later in the game.

Mechanically, Whateverland plays like any other point-and-click game. You interact with points of interest, either picking up things for your inventory to be used later or talking to NPCs. Unfortunately, like a lot of PC games brought to console, the controls were clunky at times. Point-and-click games are already restrictive in their nature and trying to be precise when you needed to be was often frustrating. So with the clunky controls and lack of direction on what to do in some of the mini-games and tasks, it wasn’t as smooth sailing as I would have liked.

I loved the art style of Whateverland immensely. It is colourful, unique in design and feels like you are sort of watching a paper puppet show brought to life. Think Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas in its style. Each cast member is unique in both their design and voice acting, and with a game that has quite a variety of characters, this isn’t always an easy task. The music didn’t stand out for me in any way, but that’s not really a bad thing. For me, the music and sounds adapted to each space and location, and if it didn’t stand out to me in any glaring way, it was clearly doing its job in setting the mood for each space. Because it blended well, you can focus on the story telling. As a fan of jazz and blues, I liked the soundtrack. Since the main location is in a club, this choice was perfect. Eddie, the poetry reading raven, is almost always on stage and I can only assume this is a nod to Edgar Allan Poe.

The time to complete Whateverland will depend on how you choose to play and how many puzzles/tasks you choose to tackle. I would estimate between 3 and 5 hours. I played through twice, and both times were within that window. Each time I chose a different path and had different tasks and a different outcome/ending.

With its dark humour, goth-like art style, and gloomy location. Whateverland is a great reminder of just how hard it is to design point-and-click games. The amount of care and detail seen everywhere you look; all of the hand-drawn details did not go unnoticed. I find it hard to think that Caligari Games weren’t at least partially inspired by Tim Burton, Edgar Allan Poe, and Shakespeare. Perhaps even Vincent Prince in the character's names and designs as you move around the world and listen to the dialogue. While not the smoothest point-and-click game I’ve played, I enjoyed my time with it, and its tone and unique design were enough to keep me interested to play through twice. It would be a great game to check out during the October spooky season.

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

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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