DROP THE ANCHOR!
Imagine sailing the vast ocean with the wind blowing through your hair. The waters kicking up as the weather intensifies. Or the sounds of rain droplets as it splashes against the surface. Published by Deep Silver and developed by 5 Lives Studios, Windbound allows you to live out any fantasies of sailing. A survival/action title with elements of rogue-like. It’s a game strongly inspired by The Legend of Zelda. Similarities that’ll quickly become apparent as soon as it begins.
While it’s unknown if it’ll stand out, one thing is certain. This is a relaxing experience. It isn’t fast-paced, but it’s obvious the sluggish nature was deliberate. Does it impress though? Let’s find out!
AS THE WORLD FADES TO WHITE!
Windbound opens as Kara slowly plummets to the ocean floor. She’s been ship-wrecked by a creature. One she’ll quickly recognize as being a Kraken. As she slowly sinks further, the screen flashes a bright light. Seconds elapse before you – the player – take control of her. In front of her is a portal. A circular structure that’ll return her to reality. So, she approaches it; stepping through only to re-awaken on the shore.
Once she does, Kara stands before making her way around the island. As she avoids the wildlife and cuts down grass, she’ll notice a stone altar. Curious, she runs towards it, rushing up the stairs. It’s there she discovers the Oar of the Ancestors. Reacting to the presence of her necklace, it’ll fall into her possession. With it now in-hand, it’s time to discover what exactly occurred.
WE SAIL ON THE BOAT WE BUILT!
Unlike most games, Windbound doesn’t tell its story through traditional means. It’ll instead be shown through illustrations. In order to unlock these, you must activate the three towers within each chapter. Doing so erects a blue beam into the sky. After, you’ll venture to a structure in the middle of the sea. It’s quite hard to miss with that giant skull-like cavern at its peak. With the towers triggered, you’ll now be able to construct bridges to reach the tippity top. Before you get to the next level though, you’ll enter a transitional map. One that’ll have a familiar face; the Kraken. As it vanishes underwater, you’re now tasked with sailing through the rough current to the end. Waiting for you there will be the same portal from the beginning. As a new chapter begins, there‘ll now be a drawing in the structure you spawn in.
TAKING A PAGE FROM GREATNESS!
If you asked me what specific game inspired Windbound, I’d quickly answer Wind Waker. Because the majority of the map is water, your primary form of travel is boats. And just like it’s inspiration, that aspect is tedious. It relies heavily on the direction of the in-game wind. I disliked this as it made getting to the islands a bit difficult. There were times when the wind wasn’t right. I had to maneuver myself in such a way that it turned what would have been a short distance into a several second affair. It’s because of that tedium that I never cared to explore. Once all three beams shone brightly, I was on my way out. While you can “loosen” or “tighten” the sail, I found the latter finicky. Unless the conditions were right, it just didn’t work out.
Now, one of the key mechanics in the game is crafting. From the vessels used to navigate the waters, to weapons for hunting. I loved this. I’m a huge fan of farm management games. Retrieving components of a recipe to create new ones is right up my alley. To unlock said recipes, simply obtain an ingredient. Well, at least I thought that was how it worked. In an odd twist, it seems only specific items will do the trick. In other words. I could need a stick and palm frond. However, even if I get the latter first, only the former will teach me how to build a new toy. Another example is leather. While I’m sure the skin I had scavenged from a wild boar was needed, I never learned how to make it. As a result, I just went without. The reason was a lack of motivation. I feel like if I had a goal, I’d be keener to see it out. The way it is now, it feels like I’m taking a shot in the dark.
Now, how is Windbound a rogue-like? Well, after death, you return to where it began; the circular portal. What you keep and what you lose is – in my opinion – unbalanced. In your inventory, there’ll be two sections. One area is dedicated to items that Kara is holding. The other is whatever size bag you‘ve crafted. The held ones will follow into the afterlife. You’ll later be able to create clothing as well and those will follow you too, but that’s it. I understand the item loss. My gripe lays in the boosts scattered around.
Kara has a health and stamina bar. Actions such as battling, swimming, and sprinting will deplete it. If you deem it too small, never fear. You’ll be able to find upgrades amongst the islands. I never actively went out of my way to search these out. Because of the tedium I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t worth it. That’s not to say I avoided it completely. At times, I’d come across some in my travels. As it was on the way, I decided to check it out. In doing so, I might get lucky and come out with increased stats. Or maybe I’ll get food to feed myself and fill my stomach.
Speaking of sustenance, on the various islands are differing creatures. Most will provide some type of meat. The combat to acquire this is rather shallow. One button strikes, while the other dodge rolls. I never found it difficult. The majority of my deaths were due starvation or a glitch I’ll touch on soon.
Upon my death though, I’d lose it all. Since resources are plentiful, it’s easy to replenish supplies. Those increases aren’t. There’s also no guarantee that you’ll find any on the next run. Losing out on this negated any sense of progression. It’s worth mentioning that there are two modes to choose from. Picking “Story” and not “Survival” does render this complaint null. And to be frank, it’s honestly the optimal way to play. Unless you’re hardcore, but I feel it’s less rewarding.
AH, SON OF A GLITCH!
Graphically speaking, I’d describe it as being cartoony. Textures aren’t extensive and have a sort of clay aesthetic almost. There is pop in, but I was never bothered by it. None of the environments matter anyway. The majority of the map consists of water. Fortunately, I felt 5 Lives Studio nailed it in that respect. The turbulence of the waves in response to worsening weather was authentic. The sounds accompanying it went far to enhancing that relaxing atmosphere. This is easily a highlight, but it may also be the reason for instability.
Stop me if you’ve heard this; Nintendo Switch and procedural generation are an iffy pair. Each map in Windbound will be created anew before each act. The initial load will take about 30 seconds. After all, it’s creating the world. I was impressed by this. It’s the only time you’ll be waiting a bit. Although, it wasn’t always smooth sailing – pun intended. You’ll notice the swirl reticle begin to struggle. In my first few hours, this wasn’t a precursor to anything. As I continued, that all changed. The stutter now leads to a full crash. I suffered three in total. So, it’s a good thing I can save wherever. By doing so before entering a new chapter, it’ll negate a big portion of progress being lost. If you forget to, worry not. The game auto-saves with each new act. So at most, you’ll just need to reactivate the towers. That is unless you fall victim to what I have lovingly called “the sail mast” glitch.
Kara can mantle up either side of her boat. The animation for this is smooth and without janky hiccups. There are, however, rare cases of being thrust up to the top of the sail mast – if I had built it. It’s not too high but to jump off, you’ll still take fall damage. See where I’m going?
Problems arise when your near death. From my experience, this glitch seems random. I’ve never been able to purposely recreate it. It’s irritating when it does occur though. I remember one specific moment; I had activated the towers and was prepared for Chapter 5. I was close to death but had avoided all threats. I grab hold of my vessel and boom, I shoot up. I’m sure you can surmise the rest. R.I.P girl, until the next run.
AND THE WATERBOARD VERDICT IS…
Despite it’s flaws, I had a good time with Windbound. Its definitely rough around the edges, but it has good points. For instance, the music is sublime. Especially that of the transitional level. Even as I write this, the piano in it is looping over and over in my head. It’s really catchy. Other tracks are decent and it never overpowers the game. It maintains that serene atmosphere. The nature effects also did a great job.
However, what holds this back is an empty world. With no NPC’s, I was repeating the same routine. Pull in with my boat, kill a few animals, activate a tower, and repeat. That is unless I found an island in my travels to visit. The lack of speed and general tedium of sailing made exploring freely unattractive. If you do choose to still, there are destroyed settlements hiding. Finding them gives you a tiny snippet of what happened.
Windbound is a beautiful game. I do feel that the vibrancy of the islands had to be toned down for Switch. Lush plant life had to be limited, making the terrain feel a bit barren. Food will degrade and there is a weapon durability system. The game wants you to utilize the crafting. As already mentioned, I enjoyed the game. More so when I switched over to the “Story” mode. I can’t, however, recommend this game at full price. The glitches make it feel a bit unpolished. The lifeless world is not great. There’s potential, but it hasn’t been realized fully.
If you ever find it on sale, get it. I’d happily drop a $20 on it.
WAIT FOR SALE ON WINDBOUND
Many thanks go to Deep Silver for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.