Game Description: A beautiful and mysterious world of fairytale charm unfolds in Wik: Fable of Souls as you swing by your ... tongue? Wik offers up more than 120 single-player levels and seven different modes of play. Up to four players can join in on the fun in multiplayer modes, where an action frenzy of firebug-dodging, acorn-spitting, and swing-chasing mayhem is sure to satisfy!
Author's note: Before writing this review, I was undecided between a piece that connected to the current state of the industry or dashing out a fun quickie. I couldn't decide, so here's both. Smarties, start at part 1. People who want to get to the point, skip to part 2.
1. With the next generation now a reality, smaller developers and publishers have been voicing concern about being priced out of the business by the rising costs of game production. When a home machine is capable of rendering ultra-detailed textures and has enough horsepower to fill a beach with individual grains of sand, it's going to take a lot of time and effort to satisfy consumers who expect to see this potential used. Publishers also take risks when they put up funding to back expensive games, so it's not exactly in their best interest to support unusual ideas or untried concepts. Obviously, one result is that originality seems to be waning while known quantities are waxing.
One answer to reviving the dilemma of dwindling freshness is games on handhelds. Development costs are lower, and the public's expectations are set on a different scale. The Sony PSP has seen success stories of unusual smaller-budget efforts like Infected and Exit, and the Nintendo DS has even more niche titles that probably wouldn't fly on a regular console. However, another possible answer for small studios and independent creators could be online. Why deal with nervous publishers and the cost of distribution and packaging when a creation could be downloaded directly to a consumer?
Independent games have been online for years, but now that home consoles are so Internet-friendly, a bridge now exists to reach a potentially huge game-playing audience that's never been there before. One example of an unknown micro-budget project that wouldn't be on the radar without this avenue is Wik: the Fable of Souls. Available for download on Microsoft's Live network at the low price of $10, it's a small game with small goals that wouldn't compare favorably side by side with the kind of software that sells hundreds of thousands of copies at retail. But, although it's clearly in a different league than the big boys, it still has a lot to offer.
2. Wik: the Fable of Souls is a crazy little project; it's got the music of Elfman, the aesthetics of Oddworld and the single-screen mechanics of an old-old-school platformer. The game's star, Wik, resembles nothing so much as a mix between a tropical tree frog and a Goth rocker. On a mission to clean glowing green grubs out of a magical forest and save the souls of his family, he jumps, swings, sucks and spits over the course of seventy missions in the main story mode. After completing his quest, there are also extra challenge missions and two bonus stages that are built mainly for fun.
I downloaded the demo when I was poking around on the Live Arcade menu, and I paid for the full version about three minutes later. It's such a bizarre little game, I was instantly drawn to it and couldn't put it down once I started. The formula itself is very simple: each 2D level is part of a forest populated with several different types of insects and the green grubs that Wik is after. Since he appears to be half frog, he uses his sticky tongue to snag things and spit them back out, or to latch onto objects in the environment and swing from place to place. He's also got some serious hops with those legs of his, and precision jumping also plays a role.
Understanding the gist of how the game is supposed to be played is easy, but mastering it takes a little bit more work. The developers have crafted all kinds of sticky situations that require a lot of excellent timing and manual dexterity to succeed. It's one thing to understand that a grub needs to be plucked from the middle of a pack of scorpions, it's another thing to do it and escape unstung. To Wik's credit, the controls are excellent and the physics of moving acrobatically couldn't be better.
It's been a long time since I played a game that required so much skill, and I definitely think a part of me missed the feeling of whiffing a jump by a fraction of an inch, and being driven to try and try again. I don't want to scare anyone off, though—the story mode is excellently balanced and has a very good difficulty curve. The challenge missions are (naturally) challenging, but can be selected separately for those who think their fingers can handle it.
It's weird, but familiar in all the right ways. I was addicted, but it did drive me batty. It feels like a forgotten classic, but it's running on the newest hardware. Wik: the Fable of Souls is a very unusual proposition, but one that I suggest 360 owners accept—and at $10 for the full version and a free trial available anytime, is there really any reason not to?
Disclaimer: This review is based on the XBOX360 version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Mild fantasy violence
Parents should not be concerned. The only action that takes place is a lot of jumping, swinging, and catching bugs with Wik's sticky tongue. The dexterity needed to successfully play the game may be beyond little ones, but there's no content here to be cautious of.
Old-school gamers should definitely check this out. It's a little like Oddworld in many ways and has a lot in common with old 2D platformers. Imagine the first Prince of Persia only more fluid and natural, and then toss in a bunch of bugs and replace the prince with a frog, and then replace the castle with a forest, and then replace… ah, nevermind. It's 2D action that requires nimble fingers and it's great.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers will have no problems. The only dialogue in the game takes place between levels. There is a telltale sound that plays when grubs appear, or another when each level's requirements are satisfied, but there are also visual cues accompanying the auditory so using the ears isn't much of a factor.
Anyone that knows me knows that I rarely play a game twice. If it's got a story mode (and I love them that do) regardless of how much I enjoyed it, chances are that it’ll never enter my console again once the credits roll. A large part of the fun I get from games is the discovery of what's next, and once I already know, it just doesn't have the same thrill.
Once in a blue moon I'll come across something that just clicks with me, and I'll fall completely in love with it. It happens so rarely that I could justifiably say it never happens, and basically be correct. However, since one should never say never, I will admit that there have been a select few that charmed me enough to come back for a second, or third round.
The latest to be added to my ‘OMG, I actually want to play this again’ pile?
Wik: the Fable of Souls, by Reflexive
It started life as a PC game, but I came across it as one of the earliest downloads launched for the Xbox 360’s Live Arcade. At the time there were only a handful of titles available, but I have a feeling I would have given it a shot regardless—There's just something completely magical about this game for me.
I reviewed it back in June 2006 for GameCritics, gave it an 8, and had this to say about it:
Wik: Fable of Souls is a crazy little project; it's got the music of Elfman, the aesthetics of Oddworld and the single-screen mechanics of an old-old-school platformer. The game's star, Wik, resembles nothing so much as a mix between a tropical tree frog and a Goth rocker.
It's weird, but familiar in all the right ways. I was addicted, but it did drive me batty. It feels like a forgotten classic, but it's running on the newest hardware… Wik: the Fable of Souls is a very unusual proposition, but one that I suggest 360 owners accept.
The full review is here if you want it, but the point I'm trying to make is that the game is fantastic. The art, the animation, the physics, the gameplay… everything. Having returned to it after two years, my appreciation for it has only grown and it's even become something of an obsession. I never got all the achievements the first time around, and I didn't complete the game with 100% of the collectibles—both things I’m currently in the middle of rectifying.
Yes, you read that right. It's not a typo: not only am I playing it again, I'm playing it again and going for total completion.
I think I can say I've done that for less than a dozen games over the length of my entire career, but Wik holds a special place in my gaming heart and I'm enjoying it every bit as much now as I did the first time around.
If you haven't tried it, take my advice and get it straight from the source here, or at the very least give the demo on Live a shot. It may not be your cup of tea, but if you're reading this blog... then the chances are that it probably is.
How can you not love this face?!?
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