World To The West finds its natural home on Nintendo’s console.
The popularity of Breath of the Wild has a lot to answer for. Zelda-inspired titles are popping up all over the place now and although World To The West was released on Steam in May last year, its arrival on the Switch lends itself to the same comparison.
From the makers of indie platformer Teslagrad, it has a similarly scientific theme but now with an overworld (and underworld) to explore from a top-down perspective, puzzles to solve and bosses to eliminate. Players control four characters with multiple special abilities: an orphan who can skate on water and dig underground; a powerful strongman, able to pummel enemies and climb to great heights; a mind-bender who can control enemies with a scarf Super Mario Odyssey-style; and best of all, the Teslamancer who can shoot balls of electricity and teleport over gaps.
The cartoonish story that unites these four heroes is loose at best. In fact, it’s not until two thirds through that the plot is fully explained: an old woman’s prophecy tells of a great “calamity” (no, not Ganon) set to steal an almighty machine with the power to control the weather. Dialogue is frequently witty and full of scientific puns that add plenty of charm, but characterisation is one-dimensional and quest markers are given little explanation.
Gameplay is the main draw here, and early on it’s plenty of fun. As you get to grips with each character separately their abilities slowly unlock, allowing for more complex puzzles and deeper exploration. Totems are placed as checkpoints that allow the player to swap between characters and the game soon settles into an enjoyable rhythm of solving puzzles linearly en route to the next checkpoint.
It’s not until the final chapter, however, that players are given control of all four heroes at once and the world fully opens up. It’s here that the game’s flaws are all too plain.
Controlling the characters is essentially asynchronous – they never truly collaborate on puzzles. Instead each character must traverse to the next checkpoint individually before re-treading the same ground with the next. In theory, this shows off some clever level design that allows for multiple paths with different abilities; in practice it becomes incredibly tedious.
On top of this, the game’s final quest is a tiresome collect-a-thon from across the land, which requires a tonne of backtracking with all four characters. It’s all too easy to get lost in a sea of blocks, keys, switches and unclear objectives – it’s missing that Zelda chime to indicate the completion of a puzzle and provide direction. Then there’s combat that’s simplistic and imprecise, with repetitive enemies and bosses providing frustrating difficulty spikes.
Beyond that, there isn’t much incentive to stray from the main path. The world is bright and colourful, but ultimately bland and with an art style that borders on twee. Still, that feeds into the breezy, whimsical aesthetic, heightened by a lively and mischievous soundtrack. World To The West finds a natural home on Nintendo’s console and has a smart premise, but it underutilises its ideas and doesn’t live up to the elegance of the games it clearly apes.