As Sadwick the clown, be whisked away to a fantasy world that mixes fairytale elements with melancholic tones in this stunning tale of epic proportons
April 20, 2012
Viva Media, Deep Silver
Windows, Nintendo DS
Genre: Fantasy AdventureRelease Date: PC Version: April 23, 2010 (Worldwide Digital Distribution & Retail: N. America, UK, Scandanavia, Italy, Spain & Portugal); April 29, 2010 (Retail: France)Platform: PC (version reviewed), NintendoDS Note: Originally published 11 June 2010
When our story opens, little Sadwick, the reluctant clown in his family’s traveling circus, is having a terrible nightmare in which he meets a giant white blob with an even bigger mouth. What does it mean? What is the blob trying to tell him? Brave but somewhat cranky Sadwick scampers out of bed and sets out on a long, adventurous journey that will give him the answers. He begins in his own autumnal forest world, where he learns, to his horror, that his peculiar, inescapable destiny is to be the destroyer of his world. Unable to accept that, he pushes on, looking for more satisfactory answers, to two further, even stranger worlds before finally ending up at the king’s castle in the sky. However, before you can join Sadwick on his quest, you may have an obstacle or two of your own to overcome, game-configuration-wise.
For several years now I have glanced at the minimum recommended specs of adventure games and shrugged. I’ve gotten most games up and running despite my system being far below the recommendation. TWW, however, is not so accommodating. I first installed it on a 64-bit laptop that met the CPU requirement but fell far short of the graphics card number. When I turned off the voices and the music I got the game to run, but the cut scenes often crashed. I nursed the game all the way to the fourth act when it finally refused to budge another inch. I then luckily was able to move my saved games to a desktop computer that had the required 256 megs of graphics memory and 90 percent of the CPU requirement. The game ran, but the voices, especially in the cut scenes, still stuttered. I usually do get some sense of satisfaction when I finish any full-length adventure, but this time the exultation came mostly from outsmarting the game engine.
When last we left little Sadwick (what kind of name is that, anyway? sounds like a town in Connecticut), he was trying desperately not to fulfill his destiny. Because no matter how much he moans and gripes about his sad little lot in life, no matter how many annoying characters he meets and difficulties he faces, the one thing he’s sure about is that he doesn’t ever want to watch his story-book world come to an end. Largely, this is due to his affection for his magical pet caterpillar, Spot. Spot is far more than a boon companion, however. He is much of the game play in TWW. Spot has an amazing shape-changing ability and throughout the game he (or she?) will acquire a number of “states” which will conveniently allow you, and Sadwick, to get out of many a thorny jam.
One of the best things about TWW, in fact, is the game play and the puzzles. The game has the feel of a throwback to the earlier, heartier days of puzzling, when not every single step was spelled out for you. Not that TWW is especially difficult. Most of its 20 to 30 hours of game play is pretty standard adventure combining and picking-up and conversing, though there are several clever, somewhat tricky puzzles scattered throughout. Any game that does not come with a help system these days automatically gets a gold star in my book. I am so goldarn sick of wrestling with the goldarn help system instead of the game! TWW does have the now almost standard press-spacebar-to-show-hotspots feature. On the other hand, TWW does cut itself a shortcut by throwing in not only a slider puzzle, but the old eight queens chess problem. Wow, Sadwick really is wet behind the ears if he's never encountered either of these before.
TWW is really a rather curious hodgepodge of things. While the basic story has a children’s fairytale feel, the basic game play (as well as the rich watercolorish graphics) is more like an old King’s Quest or Monkey Island title. Much of its "forest world" cosmology sounds like reheated Tolkien, too. In particular the Whispering Stone that Sadwick finds himself escorting to the king's castle and the Nazgul wannabe badguys who're trying to intercept him.
I suspect the writers and game designers never could make up their minds who they were making this game for. One minute Sadwick and the game are all bunny rabbits and lemon drops sweet and innocent and the next Sadwick is coming out with some stray existential line from a Sartre play. Actually, TWW reminded me most of three old favorite games of mine: Discworld, Fable and Torin’s Passage. Discworld is the hilarious Terry Pratchett romp, Fable is a lesser known but good medieval fantasy and Torin’s Passage is the usually overlooked game in Al Lowe’s toy chest, the sweet one he made while at Sierra when everyone was waiting for the next, raunchier Leisure Suit Larry episode. Like TWW, all three of these games take place in brightly cartooned medieval-ish fantasy worlds. Torin’s Passage, however, also shares withTWW the sweetness and the cute little Swiss Army knife sidekick.
Sound and Voice Acting
Where TWW does not shine is in its voice characterizations. Sadwick himself being culprit number one. I didn’t at first realize this because I had the voices turned off so that the game would run. But what a shock when I finally got to hear Sadwick and the others speak! Some of the voices are like those wan impressions that guys making YouTube Star Trek parodies record. I did check the credits and it looks like they hired professional actors, but these voices sound decidedly amateurish. Perhaps, though, they were saving money for the English version. Maybe if you sprechen sie deutsch the voices are fab. The music, which I also had turned off until act IV, is very nice late-Romantic stuff.
The game controls are once again borrowed from late LucasArts adventures, that is to say the “action coin” begun with, I believe, Curse of Monkey Island. The cut scenes themselves are fairly well done, though a little on the gee-gosh side. Again, it’s like two sets of people with drastically different story interests were making different parts of the game.
The ending, on the other hand, manages to be both genuinely poignant and surprising. The Whispered World is about half a terrific game and half a mess. But since the most important parts, the puzzling, graphics and exploring, are all well done I’m going to ignore the stuff I cared less for and award the game an overall grade of A minus.
PC Windows XP (min. SP2) or Vista 2 GHz CPU 1 GB RAM 256 MB RAM GPU DirectX® Version 9.0c DVD-Drive