It’s a rare game that genuinely makes me smile – and I play a lot of Nintendo games. Wandersong somehow does it constantly.
I know, I know. You glance at Wandersong and think you have it all figured out. Annoyingly happy little guy sings his way through a pastel world.
You haven’t played something like it before. You never know what’s coming next.
Wandersong is such a good-natured, charming game that you can’t help but get lost in it. And you will connect with and root for your main character in a way that you just don’t tend to do with a one-dimensional shoe-filler like, say, Mario. Wandersong is both over-the-top playful and beautifully subtle. Kirby doesn’t do subtle. Link doesn’t do…much of anything but swing a sword and stand there, staring at things.
This bard feels alive.
Don’t be fooled. The world is bright and colorful, but Wandersong isn’t sappy or cloying in its sweetness. Lest you think it might quickly wear thin, know that this is a world in which all of reality is about to come to an end.
There’s an underlying darkness, and several twists make the game’s story surprisingly powerful as it unfolds. The characters you’ll encounter are dynamic enough to put you through a whirlwind of emotions along the way – the bard very much included.
He wants to save the world because he cares about the people (and creatures) in it. He’s not psychotically happy. He isn’t even sure he can do it, but he’s driven to try. He’s committed to music and joy as solutions to problems – and vehemently opposed to violence. It’s a plot point. It affects how you approach some puzzles. But he’s genuine and doesn’t waver on his principles, even when there’s a much easier way out or other characters make compelling arguments to do so.
The core gameplay mechanic is, obviously, the bard’s ability to sing. When you use the right analog stick, a wheel of notes will pop up. While the bard speaks during story sequences and in many conversations, any choices you’re asked to make in terms of how to respond on his behalf are done through song. You can sing for fun while walking around. If the bard is feeling down or scared, his singing voice will change accordingly to a quivering whisper. Often, you’ll need to sing a specific pattern to solve a puzzle or get past an obstacle. You’ll even spell his 4-character name from a seemingly random assortment of letters – I retried a few times and finally landed on Glen.
There is an inherent silliness, and part of the thing that kept me smirking the entire time was my trust that Wandersong would stick to its guns in all phases of the game. The gameplay is surprisingly varied. The story is broken up into several acts, each of which features new environments, characters, and play styles. But you’re going to sing and dance your way through all of it, and your main character is sensitive enough to react to the world around him in a truly endearing way. He definitely isn’t what’s traditionally thought of as “The Hero.”
I enjoy caring about the games I’m playing. I want to genuinely like and empathize with characters. That doesn’t happen often, but this weird, cartoonish musical platform adventure game pulls it off beautifully. Even subtle details, like a quick facial reaction, a dialogue thread tinged with both humor and melancholy, or inclusive use of pronouns, stick with you to create an overall mood unlike any game I’ve experienced in recent memory.
I felt challenged at times, but never overly so. Gameplay is intuitive, and you won’t be punished for “dying.” If you miss a jump during a platforming sequence, you simply warp back to before your attempt and keep on playing. There are no lives or continues. While other platformers demand perfection and mastery, Wandersong is the perfect antidote to that overly-demanding, sweat-inducing style. You have room to explore, experiment, and trust your intuition, even in the game’s most dire situations.
Being perceptive helps. Pay attention. Listen to people. See what the environment is telling you. If you have a hunch, go for it.
There’s a “dance” button, and multiple hidden dances to unlock. It was kind of fun to bust out a jaunty little jig during a heavy moment.
This ability has no real bearing on the game itself…but, dance.
I hope you dance.
Wandersong is not a punishingly difficult game by any stretch of the imagination – but it is a game where you appreciate the imagination that went into creating its clever puzzles, endearing characters, haunting melodies and funny dialogue. It wasn’t a slog at any point, and it didn’t overstay its welcome. You can revisit any act or scene after credits roll, unlocking any hidden dances you missed.
Don’t write this one off as Just a Music Game™ or For Kids™ or Too Sweet-Looking™. There’s heart and depth here. If you want a game that feels fresh and unique, that gleefully challenges video game clichés, and that presents earnest characters who want to do well but also struggle with doubt and feelings of inadequacy along the way…look no further.
I can’t recommend Wandersong highly enough.
It’s easy to miss a gem with the seemingly endless barrage of interesting Switch titles released week after week – don’t sleep on this one!
- Wonderful story that challenges gaming conventions
- Expressive, surprisingly nuanced characters
- Varied gameplay styles
- Colorful, imaginative world
- It’s very forgiving (my daughter started her own file and loves it)
- Those dances
- There some “jaggies” on some edges of characters and environmental elements
- It takes practice to precisely nail those music notes on the wheel with your cursor/analog stick in real time, when the game calls for it…
- I did encounter one crash on a second play-through of Act Two, though I had already completed the game without issue
I played a digital copy of Wandersong that I paid for myself. If you have any questions on our review scale please see our About page.