This title was reviewed on PC, but is also available on Nintendo Switch.
Anyone who knows me can attest that I am about as musical as a brick. I don’t know how to play a single instrument, I can’t read music and when I sing I generally sound like a cat caught under a lawn mower. So being a bard in the few campaigns of Dungeons and Dragons I’ve played through has never really been something I wanted to do – and before now, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a videogame that featured a bard. For me, Wandersong is not only something entirely new – it’s something I never thought to want in a game; but man, has it sold me on the role of the bard.
Developed and released by Greg Lobanov, the game Wandersong starts with a creation myth. Eons ago the goddess Eya sung the universe into being. Now, she wants to wipe the slate clean and start anew – and it’s up to a young, relentlessly optimistic bard to save the world by collecting all the pieces of the Earthsong. As you go on your quest, your bard faces a number of challenges – all able to be solved through the power of song. When singing, a colour wheel appears with each colour corresponding to a note – using either the mouse or the right stick on your controller to select a direction/colour/note, the bard can string together a song for any situation. It’s a simple mechanic that works very well, and as the game progresses the songs get more complex, some even bringing dancing into play. Sometimes you will need to match note or rhythm another character presents you with – other times the singing is used simply as a directional resistance against an oncoming force. Regardless of the situation, the controls here are simple and very accessible, and getting this aspect of the game spot on is surprisingly satisfying.
Graphics and Visuals
Wandersong looks a bit like the lost cousin of Adventure Time, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. The riot of colour, the simplistic cut out style and the fun effect your music has on the world (and characters) around you – to the sceptic’s eye, it could all seem a bit preschool. I’m a cynical person by nature, and honestly, I think if I’d seen this on my Steam queue I’d probably have looked at the visual style and immediately judged it as a ‘kiddy game’. And friends, my gaming experience would be all the lesser for it. The simple 2D cut out style is done brilliantly, the characters all have unique designs and the world around you is not only beautiful, parts of it also react to your song. The game might look simplistic at a glance but hot damn if this isn’t one of the most visually interesting games I’ve come across in years. The 2D cut outs are well designed across the board, from the villages you pass through right down to that flower that changes colour to match your tune. But perhaps the most surprising aspect is that despite the simplicity of the character design inherent in the style, Wandersong manages to convey some genuinely emotional scenes, with some serious topics such as loss, grief and depression mentioned and handled with care and aplomb. This game looks wholesome because it is wholesome, but not in a shallow way that you often find, where happiness is baseline, and everything is sunshine and rainbows. No, the wholesomeness in this game is earned; characters aren’t perfect, and life isn’t always easy, but despite the difficulties your pacifist bard faces, they are able to face the world and the people in it with an open heart and perhaps a childlike wonder – making the visual style of Wandersong perfectly apt and maybe even more effective than another style would have been. There’s an inherent sort of joy in the style, and I think this carries over to match not only your bard but the joy in music that this game centres on.
Music and Sound
You know that feeling you get when you hear your favourite song, or a song that fits the emotion you’re feeling so perfectly it feels like it was written just for you in that moment? Wandersong tries to take these emotions and put them into a videogame, and somehow, it absolutely smashes it out of the park. The music in this game is varied and well-orchestrated, with each melody fitting the situation perfectly and a variety of instruments used (some even by the NPCs within the game itself). But the absolute stand-out aspect of Wandersong and undeniably the most important aspect of gameplay is the voice of your bard. Clear and resonant, the songs your bard sings are utterly gorgeous to listen to, no matter how strange the combination of notes you piece together may seem. Sound in Wandersong is utterly phenomenal, not only in the crisp sound effects or even the soundtrack, but in the way that it gives creative freedom to the player and lets even the most musically challenged take joy in the creation of song. This is a game that just gets sound, that understands how tunes fit together, and how to convey a sense of character through a few simple sounds – not even words! Just sounds! But perhaps most importantly, Wandersong understands why people the world over love music, and it is this understanding – this joy that can be found in music – that sits at the very core of this game.
Wandersong is unexpected in all the best ways, heart-warming in all the right moments and inspires a sense of joy in song that I think most people will immediately relate to, whether they realise they have it within them or not. This game is a gem. There’s really no other way I can put it. Wandersong succeeds where very few have even tried – the accessible gameplay, colourful 2D visuals, emotional impact of the story and character side quests, and the frankly brilliant use of sound combine to create a game with both humour and heart. If you’ve ever wanted to play a bard, or if you’ve never wanted to play a bard – give this game a go.