Reviewed: November 14, 2004
Released: October 19, 2004
Trial Version Download
In a time of year normally reserved for a slew of AAA holiday releases Reflexive Entertainment manages to sneak in perhaps one of the most ingenious and totally addicting games of the 21st century. Itís hard to put a finger on what makes Wik & the Fable of Souls the stellar hit that it is. It could be the gorgeous visuals, even though the game takes place on static backgrounds. It could be the unlikely hero, Wik, who looks like a reject from the Oddworld series of games. Or perhaps itís the 120 levels of progressively challenging levels that blends classic arcade gameplay with thoughtful puzzle solving. Iím betting itís all of these and more.
Wik & the Fable of Souls is, at its core, an action game spread across 120 screens that you can tackle in a linear Story mode or the more difficult Challenge mode. The Story mode is more visceral action. You are given your objectives and left to accomplish your task as quickly as possible. The Challenge mode requires a lot more practice and precise control over Wik, and the levels become more puzzle-like in nature.
The coolest aspect of these two modes is how well they complement each other. Playing through about half of the Story mode will give you enough basic knowledge to give you half a chance with the Challenge mode, and once you perfect the Challenge mode you can return to the Story mode for a whole new adventure with all new skills.
The actual gameplay is hard to put into words because the game is constantly evolving with each new level. The basics are simple. You play Wik, a freakish half-human, half-frog like creature with bulging orange eyes and a tuft of orange hair. His frog legs allow Wik to jump great distances and his frog tongue allows him to snatch bugs and other objects from the ground, tree branches, or even out of the air.
Wik doesnít move like your typical arcade hero. In fact, controls are so simply youíll wonder how they could make such a wickedly clever game when all you do is point and right click to make Wik jump from where heís at to where you are pointing. The only other control you have to worry about is Wikís tongue, handled with the left mouse button. Again, just aim and click and his tongue will shoot out and stick to ledges, dreamcatchers, or latch onto the insect, grub, or glob of honey.
Just figuring out how to move Wik around quickly and accurately will take you several levels to learn and even more to master, especially when it comes time to learn the all important swing moves where you latch onto an object with your tongue and hold down the mouse button then swing back and forth by moving the mouse. You can increase your arc and span great distances and collect a few goodies along the way.
Your primary goal, or at least one of them (your duties increase as the game gets deeper) is to collect a certain amount of grubs, these cute little green snail-like creatures. They will materialize all over the level, on the ground, on tree limbs, on rocks, everywhere, and itís your job to collect them one at a time and feed them to your friend, Slotham. There are a fixed amount of grubs on each level so you canít let too many escape or you might not pass the level. Some levels require a perfect run.
While you arenít exactly on a timer, Slotham is slowly moving across the bottom of the screen and when he exits the screen you had better have collected enough grubs or you get to try again. You can slow Slotham down by snatching up globs of honey and tossing them in his path. Heíll slow down long enough to devour these before continuing his plodding pace.
As if collecting grubs wasnít challenging enough, insects will fly onto the screen and try to carry the grubs away. At this point the game becomes much like the old arcade game Defender as you try to shoot down the insects by snatching up then spitting nuts or other bugs at the grub-nappers. If you manage to hit them they will release their grub and you can feed it to Slotham.
But thatís not all (I told you this gets complicated). You get to collect coins while doing all of this. Naturally, since the grubs are your primary objective and Slotham is always on a steady move you can't make coin collecting a priority, but you can try to collect as many as possible as you make your way across the screen collecting grubs. Often these coins will appear in positions and arcs that hint at optimum paths of travel.
But why stop at coins. Letís add multicolored gemstones. Green, red, and white gems will appear at various locations on the screen. Some will float around in patterns. Coins and gems cannot be snatched with your tongue; youíll have to actually touch them with Wik to collect them.
The environments are constantly changing presenting new challenges. Some levels will have branches that are totally inaccessible to Wik meaning you have to wait for insects to catch a grub then shoot it down before it escapes. Other levels will have you jumping up lengthy tiers of ledges, across rocks, or swinging from one side of the screen to the other with your snaking tongue.
Despite the static nature of the backgrounds, each and every screen in Wik is a work of art, even the menus. The game levels are simply gorgeous and range from dark forest levels to more brightly lit canyons and even some colorful enchanted mushroom patches. These environments feature excellent blends of natural colors giving the game a very organic feel that suits the theme perfectly.
Animation is simple but effective. Wik moves in quick leaps and sticks to where he lands. His tongue lashes out like some creepy whip and snatches up anything it touches. You can even stick it to a ledge and use it as a giant piece of flypaper to catch up to 25 bugs then shoot them out in a shotgun blast. Insects fly around in various patterns and Slotham is always plodding along the bottom of the screen munching on honey drops and any grubs you throw his way.
There is a plethora of special effects starting with nice sparkly effects in the menus then moving onto advanced lens flares and particle effects within the game. There are even some excellent lighting and shadow effects.
The HUD is minimal, kept to a small circular display in the top corner. Hint boxes will appear throughout the game as an ongoing tutorial outlining tips and new objectives. My only minor complaint is the font, in an attempt to be a bit fancy, can be hard to read at times.
Sound effects are minimal. You have the sound of parchment pages being turned as the screens change. This gives the game a storybook feel. You can barely hear Wikís tongue lash out and the other noises in the game are equally subdued but also very distinct. Rocks and pinecones crack and break, and coins make that unmistakable ďchange falling into a purseĒ noise as you pass through them.
The music is outstanding, better than most of the music Iíve heard in major releases this year. It has a classic Tim Burton feel to it (much like the entire game); an eerie mix of storybook fantasy and sinister orchestra themes that can be charming in the menus and a bit unsettling in the actual game.
Games like this are a love-hate thing for me. I love the fact that the game is fun, addictive, challenging, and relatively long, but I hate the fact I canít stop playing it. I literally cannot sit down at my computer without playing at least 2-3 levels and that often turns into 5-10 or more.
There are 120 levels and while some can be finished in mere seconds, you can expect at least 6-10 hours of gameplay for the Story mode and that much again for the Challenge mode. Of course youíll then want to go back and play it again because it's just so much addictive fun. The game does a good job of locking out parts of the game until you complete other sections. Not only does this make for a good reward system, it insures you have the necessary skills before you tackle a new mode.
Assuming you perfect your skills with the included levels, Reflexive is throwing in their level editor so you can create your own new levels. This is a rather complicated tool, much more so than their Ricochet Lost World editor, but if you have the time and skills you can extend the life of this game for as long as you want to build new levels.
I find it refreshing and a bit interesting that some of the best games this holiday season arenít coming from the big publishers, but from the smaller independent houses. Sure you have your AAA titles that will make millions over the next 90 days, but if you find somebody who downloads and purchases Wik & the Fable of Souls and look at their hard drive in 6-8 months, I bet youíre likely to find this game has managed to stay on their hard drive longer than any other title released this year. I, for one, simply cannot remember a game that was this engaging or addicting in my 24 years of gaming.