Rhythm games are something of a dying art, which is a shame because there is a lot to be said for sitting down and working your way through some songs. Wandersong isn’t quite a rhythm game, but it certainly feels like one at times. You play a wandering bard, one who has always been of little use beyond entertainment, but has a dream about an other worldly being who tells you in rather colourful language that the world is about to end.
Upon waking, you find your small village at the mercy of some rather agitated ghosts. It turns out that your dulcet tones are exactly the cure for what ails them. Everything plays out like a game of bop-it as you sing to them by choosing the direction on a coloured wheel to hit different notes. You match the patterns that whoever you are singing to puts out, then you can have a stage-worthy conversation.
You even have conversations using this rather interesting colour wheel, in a unique system that allows a lot of flexibility in its uses. Hitting a different note for each syllable lets you dictate the tone of each answer. It is a rather charming affair throughout.
In fact the entire experience is rather charming. The graphics have a very cut-out handcrafted feel to them, the animations fit the whole thing perfectly, and it comes together in a manner that feels like watching a Punch and Judy show with better production values. Well, most of the time.
There have been a few instances of rather unpleasant crashes which tarnish the experience. The most egregious of these was during a rather long performance on a stage. Having to replay the otherwise enjoyable show really taints the whole thing.
Past that, there is a vast array of truly magical touches that really lift the experience. Each character speaks in a different font that suits their personality and adds a sense of voice that isn’t often delivered without full voice acting. Even the cadence at which certain lines are delivered can differ from person to person and moment to moment. Each character you interact with is entertaining and invites some kind of emotional reaction, as all the best ones should.
One of the strongest moments in the game is an interaction with two monsters you find in a cave. To even get to the first is an arduous and hard won victory, but you must again sing against the tunes he is throwing at you. It’s only then can you slowly make your way forwards and when you finally make it there the monster is stunned to find out that you mean it no harm. You want to help, after all what is a bard for if not to bring joy?
You follow him up to his boyfriend who has been cursed. The curse keeps him held in place, unable to move but still seeing everything. You try to help, but unfortunately you just don’t know the right song, so you press forwards in your pursuit of the song that can save your universe. You make progress and eventually return with a brand new song to sing. This is the one and after a truly rousing performance the monster is free to be with the love of his life. It is an incredibly well written, and as such a very touching moment.
The game is defined by its emotional impact, defined by the beauty that you find as you journey around trying to make the world better. The pacifism of the protagonist is poignant and a very refreshing change of pace.
Wandersong is by no means perfect, but it is very different. Charm oozes out of every note and motion you make. Despite the technical glitches it is consistently winning and moving, with a lack of aggression and a genuine optimism that beams through like nothing else. It really will bring a smile to your face.
Version tested: Nintendo Switch – Also available on PC & Mac