Mild, Mild West
Game: World to the West
Developer: Rain Games
Publisher: Rain Games
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch (Review code provided)
The Nintendo Switch is fast becoming host to a very large number of popular indie games, many of which belong to the top down, western RPG genre. This is particularly fitting for a Nintendo console, given that this kind of action RPG is a genre that has been defined largely by the Zelda series of games. Not all are created equal though, and of course emulating the adventures of Nintendo’s elven hero is always going to be a difficult task for any of the smaller studios attempting to do so.
Recently released by Teslagrad creator Rain Games, World to the West is the latest game to fit the description of a Zelda-like RPG to hit the Switch. Whilst most games of this kind focus on enabling exploration of new areas by expanding the skill set of a single main character, World to the West is built around having four distinctly different playable characters who each contribute their own skills and personalities to form a whole.
A brief introduction for each of the four characters opens up the game before we learn why they’ve all been brought together. Despite a healthy dose of RPG cliche featuring both a prophecy and a comical bad guy that ties the heroes together with his own machinations, this intro does a decent job of introducing the movement properties of each character and moving swiftly into the game proper.
We learn during this tutorial that Lumina can blink across gaps and hit things with an electrified staff, whilst Knauss can dig and tunnel underground in certain conditions. Teri, the third character can initially only sprint and use her scarf to stun enemies, but later her abilities expand to include mind control. The final character, Lord Clonington is a straightforward tank really, with the ability to deliver a hefty beating (which also allows him to smash down walls) as well as jump small ledges etc. You’ve probably guessed it, but a key focus of the gameplay in World to the West is placed on switching characters around to complete puzzles and advance through challenging sequences.
Story exposition is present in World to the West, but it feels strangely underplayed to me. Almost every character is a videogame trope of some kind, and at least as often as not, they’ll poke regular fun at the role they represent whilst actually not delivering a ton of interesting content. This sort of semi-humorous approach probably works in some ways for some people, but for me it meant by the mid-game I was skipping dialogue almost completely.
This feeling of a slightly vanilla world isn’t helped by the muted graphics either. The game takes place both above and below ground, but in either case, there is a very plain, pastel hue to World to the West that I didn’t like a lot either. Three dimensional objects (like rocks, cliffs or trees) stand out against the backdrop, but otherwise the game is lacking in fine detail in almost every respect. A couple of the larger characters (Lord Cloningon and Teri) have distinctive facial details that bring them to life, as do some of the enemies, but Knauss and Lumina are very indistinct.
I’m not one hundred percent committed to calling the look out as a negative point, because I think it may be that it simply isn’t my thing, but when I compare World to the West’s minimalist visual style to the relatively rich, detailed artwork of Teslagrad, I have a distinct preference. The sound on the other hand is OK, with some cute accompaniments used to express shock, joy or fear and a number of other cute and pleasant effects applied similarly elsewhere. The music is fine overall as well, which is a good thing given the high likelihood that you’ll be playing on the move with headphones.
On that note, whilst I don’t know how the other releases of World to the West play, the Switch version seems very well done. No matter what I think about the way the graphics have been produced, they do seem to have been recreated well on Nintendo’s handheld – there’s no resolution scaling to add jagged lines or notable slowdown, regardless of how hectic the scenes get (which is never too hectic.) The gameplay also suits portable play as well, because World to the West is broken down into small sections that must be traversed by a specific character thanks to the skills they have, rather than all of them travelling at once.
This can lead to a fair bit of either backtracking or at least repeating the same new areas to reach those that branch off it and changing is only permitted at checkpoints. Aside from artificially increasing the game length, I can’t actually see why Rain Games didn’t simply allow players to switch character at will using the shoulder buttons, for example, but the need to forge on to the next switchover point does add some slight tactical elements to some areas.
Combat in World to the West is fairly minimalist as well, although variety is added to the encounters through the way that each character must approach them. Knauss, for example, has absolutely no offensive capabilities, but he can squeeze through small gaps and use his tunneling ability to avoid enemies altogether. Lord Clodington can smash just about any enemy, but his lack of overall mobility means that there are areas he will either never reach, or won’t reach until other characters have progressed through a host of enemies using their own skills.
Sadly, I found World to the West to be fairly average in the truest sense of the word. It introduces a few new concepts via the way characters drive the action, but at the same time it doesn’t offer the best way to access them because of the checkpoint system. Lackluster storytelling and dull visuals do little to introduce the kind of charm that games like Oceanhorn bring to the table, whilst combat and puzzling is also fairly run of the mill, offering little new or interesting. With all of those negative features out of the way, I should also say that there isn’t anything materially wrong with the game either, so it really is only fair to award it: