By Mento 0 Comments
If there's one thing that an Indie developer can do to earn my respect, it's when they have the chutzpah make a play for the Zelda throne. The original 1986 The Legend of Zelda came out swinging with its unique blend of Tower of Druaga and Hydlide, minimizing the RPG elements (not that Druaga or Hydlide had much of either) for a purely puzzle, action and exploration-oriented game. In the decades since its debut it's continued to refine and update that formula, sometimes making missteps but always moving forward to the beat of its own drum. It's hard enough trying to top a genre leader; harder still when that leader is really the only game in town, so to speak. Yet, generations of developers have grown up adoring Miyamoto's world of magical triangles and pig wizards, and I'd imagine that the urge is strong to create something that either homages the Zelda franchise outright or takes it in a direction it had never considered before. There have been big-budget takes on Zelda in the past - the most notable in my mind are Alundra, 3D Dot Game Heroes and Darksiders - but it wasn't until the modern Indie scene that we starting seeing them spring up everywhere like so many deku shrubs.
World to the West is the next game from Rain Games, they of Teslagrad. Teslagrad, which I covered two years ago, was a side-scrolling platformer with a mild spacewhipper angle and a lot of puzzles involving magnets and polarities - it wasn't a particularly uncommon genre for an Indie game to explore, and it was often far more difficult than it needed to be between its lack of checkpoints in boss fights and the unintentional quirks of the physics engine, but it was still a solid, competently-made puzzle-platformer with a distinctive Soviet steampunk aesthetic. World to the West sweeps the slate clean for the most part, though a relative of the original game's hero continues to represent the "teslamancy" of Teslagrad. In World to the West, four characters find themselves embroiled in an adventure to save the world from an unscrupulous noble and the ancient weather machine he uncovered. Each of the four has a different reason for being there - Lumina the Teslamancer fell into a teleporter from a different world, Knaus is an endlessly polite Dickensian urchin tricked into mining for coal until he discovers the truth and stages a daring escape for his friends, Miss Teri is a stylish adventurer who finds herself betrayed after her last artifact recovery mission, and Sir Clonington is a powerfully-built aristocratic narcissist out to prove his mettle by punching things really hard - and each of the four have their own unique selection of abilities and power-ups.
It's these versatile skills and the way the four characters use them to traverse the world by disparate means that sets World to the West apart from its clear inspiration. Yet all the same, there's certain deference of The Legend of Zelda - and the curious thing is that each Indie "Zelda-like" I've played so far appears to venerate a different characteristic of the series. With World to the West, there's a certain amount of the original game's rudderless exploration involved - you're occasionally given an objective marker to follow, but no clear explanation for how to get there, and sometimes there's no marker at all and you simply go wherever is presently available until something happens. There's numerous totem pole checkpoints that you can conveniently fast travel between, but the fast travel system works on a per character basis: each character, individually, has to have found a checkpoint before they can warp there. This can lead to characters backtracking to zones that were previously related to a different character's story, prior to the group meeting up around the mid-point of the game, or all four trekking across the map to a specific quest location by their own paths. While an interesting idea, it can mean a lot of repetition as each character moves through the same set of map squares, only occasionally forced to make detours around types of obstacles they can't surpass - Lumina can teleport across gaps in short "blinks", though she can't climb walls like Clonington can, command creatures to carry her across like Teri can, nor can she skate across bodies of water like Knaus can (once they all have the respective power-ups).
Then there's the myriad of problems that World to the West suffers, most of which are glitches that the developers couldn't iron out (at least, not for the PS4 version, which is what I played). I've been stuck a few times and forced to load from the last checkpoint, and likewise I've tumbled through the floor to my death once or twice. One of the health upgrade collectibles is straight up bugged and impossible to get: I spent half an hour trying to figure out how to reach it before discovering the truth online. The overworld map is matched by an equally elaborate underworld map, and it's almost always too dark to see anything clearly down there - there's no in-game brightness settings, and no-one thought to bring a torch, so I either had to squint or consider turning up the brightness on the TV. The boss difficulty was all over the place too: as an example, the final boss has four stages - one for each hero - and Lumina's was significantly more difficult than the other three, despite falling second in the order. Though, thankfully, there's nothing in that game as frustrating as Teslagrad's bosses. There's also this subplot with a recurring rival that doesn't go anywhere, but maybe the game's saving that for a sequel.
Multiple caveats aside, I will say that World to the West should be commended for trying something new with the venerable Legend of Zelda construct by building a large overworld and underworld full of puzzles and incidental exploration with four characters in mind instead of just one. I also found it amusing in parts - the beefy Clonington is frequently the butt of jokes, but he's kind of a dick so that makes it OK - and while it's graphically plain I did like the music, which (like Teslagrad) alternates between comically jaunty and eerily atmospheric. (But man, a glitched collectible? That's really a cardinal sin for a collectathon exploration game.)
: 3 out of 5.
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