Have you ever played an RPG with your friends and gotten stuck playing the bard? Wandersong is the answer to your disappointment by making that dreadful scenario fun! The world is on the verge of destruction, and the bard will need to learn the Earth Song if he wants to prevent life as we know it from collapsing. In order to stop the apocalypse, you’ll need to travel to all 7 realms, meet with their respective masters, and learn their part of the song!
So if you love story-driven platformers but are sick of the crushing ambience that has dominated that particular subset of the genre, Wandersong is a breath of fresh air. It’s a candy-coated alternative in the “road trip” style platformer that’s been headlined by dark and dour games like Limbo or Inside. The puzzles are there to keep you active in the story rather than challenge your puzzle-solving skills like Braid or Rose in the Twilight.
What to Expect
Despite the setting and plot structure, Wandersong has absolutely no RPG elements. Wandersong is a puzzle-platformer through and through, so there’s no need to break out Google Spreadsheets to chart out your skill trees. You choose one of 8 notes to sing from a wheel using the right analog stick or the touchpad and use these notes to solve puzzles. Not musically inclined? No worries! Your notes are helpfully color-coded and any puzzle that needs a specific sequence of notes will be attuned to that color.
Style-wise, expect a cavalcade of offbeat humor very much akin to Earthbound or Undertale. You’ll find yourself in silly situations with colorful characters that define each chapter. There’s a gang of coffee-loving pirates, an overly-confident violinist that you have to best musically, a dog-obsessed poet who can’t figure out basic animal domestication, and so forth. Most of the puzzles that take place outside of the mystical realms revolve around solving problems for each of these characters. Mixed in with all the silliness is the occasional turn to drama, like helping an accordion player reconcile their depression with the recent loss of their mother.
At its core, Wandersong is a story about identity and reconciling who you are with how you are labeed. It’s really not possible to delve into this deeply without going into spoilers, but every character is driven by what society has determined for them in the world. Monsters are attacked simply because humans have dubbed them as dangerous. Miriam dislikes you because you undermine her own role as a witch and what makes her special. The eventual villain of the story goes to insane lengths to protect their own notion of their desired identity. It’s a well-thought-out story overall, even if it’s a bit too on-the-nose with repeatedly using standard RPG class terminology to do so.
In fact, “on the nose” is probably the best way to describe the writing of Wandersong in general. The dialogue in Wandersong can be a bit too explanatory by pointing out very obvious things for the sake of comedy or drama. This is where the story is at its weakest. Characters will spout very pointed lines like “You didn’t think a corny naive speech would ACTUALLY stop this from happening, did you?”, where it will completely take you out of the drama of the narrative. Sometimes Wandersong will even reverse this and turn it into a joke, which undermines the more somber and tense atmosphere it was striving for.
In fact, you’ll probably know whether or not you’ll enjoy the comedy based on the trailers. It’s very much a “love it or hate it” style of writing, and will depend on how much you enjoy off-beat quirkiness. There are some fun bits here and there but, overall, it’s hard to ignore the Earthbound and Undertale influence in the game. If you’re really into that style of humor and are craving for more, you’re in for a treat. If you got your fill with those aforementioned games… well, it’s not so overbearing that it detracts from the emotional core of Wandersong.
Wandersong’s greatest strength in terms of pure gameplay is the pacing. You’ll never stick with the same kind of puzzle for the entirety of the game. Sometimes you’ll use your songs to maneuver growing plants through winding mini-mazes to transport you to the other side of a chasm, other times you’ll need to remember simple melodies that activate spells to manipulate the environment, and so on. It keeps Wandersong constantly feeling fresh and exciting, always introducing something new with every new area you visit. This ties in exceptionally well with the excitement that comes from a globe-trotting journey and experiencing new things wherever you go.
However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the absolutely gorgeous visuals. Wandersong explodes from the screen with bright, cheery colors and distinct locations. Even when Wandersong enters more somber territory, the world opts for duller purples and blues rather than grays. It feels consistent with the tone it wants to set without taking you out of the world Wandersong has built. This, combined with the absence of line work and its soft texturing, gives Wandersong a story book feel that is incredibly appealing.
There is a downside to all of this, however. The controls in Wandersong are certainly functional, but can occasionally get frustrating on the Switch’s analog sticks. Several puzzles require you to select notes that aren’t always right next to each other. Your natural instinct is to slide the analog stick from your current position over to the next note. If you do it fast enough, you can make it before the game registers the other notes that are in between. More often than not though you’ll have to restart the song from the beginning. Instead, you need to hit the note, pull back the joystick, and immediately hit the next note. This can be imprecise and frustrating. The solution is to use the touchpad for the wheel, but this can be a little tiring on your left arm after extended play.
Finally, it’d be strange if a review on a game called “Wandersong” wrapped up without mentioning the music and sound design. This is a game that is really meant to be played with headphones, or at least with the sound turned all the way up. The OST itself is nice, but what really makes Wandersong work is the incredibly rich production that brings the world to life. Control complaints aside, there’s something just incredibly satisfying about making your bard sing. There’s such a pleasant timbre to his voice that you’ll find yourself playing around with his voice just as you’re wandering around. You won’t even mind when you end up having to sing entire responses to NPCs. Even more interesting is how the game then plays with that in other sections of the game, adjusting his voice to his own mood.
Honey's Gameplay Consensus:
Wandersong can be a bit rough around the edges with infrequently cumbersome controls and occasional issue with the writing, but the strengths overall outweigh any shortcomings. Even if Earthbound and Undertale comparisons are unavoidable, there’s something that feels very personal about Wandersong that captures what makes indie games so special. Admittedly, much of that comes down to the absolutely wonderful art and sound direction, but the diversity of the puzzle-solving and interesting core narrative certainly add to the experience.
Fast pacing, never content with sticking with one gameplay concept for the entire game
Gorgeous art design that immediately catches your eye
Lush sound production that makes you want to keep your volume up even in portable mode
Interesting story themes that serve its setting well
Control scheme can be cumbersome during certain puzzles
Writing that can undermine its own tone and can take you out of the story
Honey's Final Verdict:
If you’re a Switch owner who’s just wrapping up Undertale and are hungry for more, Wandersong is absolutely worth a look. It’s not a perfect game by any means, but the strength of its art direction, pacing, and overall story make up for any issues with its controls and weak dialogue. It’s a charming title that’s got a sweet message and a lot of heart.
Did this review help? Disagree with any of our key points? Have some theories as to who the heck that masked kid is? Please, let us know in the comments below!
Author: Matt Knodle
I come from Indiana, where I grew up near a video rental shop that proudly stated “The widest selection of anime in the state”, setting me on a course to enjoy as much anime as possible. I’ve devoted myself to over-analyzing various sports anime and video games probably more than they were ever intended. I currently co-host a weekly sports anime fan podcast called KoshienCast with my good friend, Matt.