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Indie Corner: Whispering Willows

Whispering Willows was released for PlayStation 4 and Vita a couple of months ago but comes to Xbox One and PC as well. We’ve played the Xbox One version and were charmed by the gorgeous graphics and thrilling story. Time to meet Elena, the girl who can shift between our world and the world of spirits.

The story

Elena stars her adventure in order to find out what happened to her father. Her father is the landlord of a creepy big mansion but went missing a couple of days ago. Elena fears that some supernatural force has something to do with this disappearance, not long after her first steps, she releases she was right about the supernatural part.

Elena isn’t entirely alone however; she can communicate with ghosts that wander around in the mansion. Before these ghosts will help her however, she needs to run some errands for them first. It’s not a very innovative or creative story if you ask us but it gets the job done. It sets the tone for this rather dark adventure and gives you a reason to search for keys and hidden locations in the mansion and the other buildings.

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Find the key and the right door

Whispering Willows plays as a traditional 2D adventure game where you need to look for certain objects in different rooms. No matter what building you’re in, you’ll always need to find the right key for the right door. The buildings are rather big and there isn’t a hint system that points out where you need to go. Soon it appeared that finding the right path was the most difficult task in the game. The environments are filled with ladders, doors and keys, finding your path isn’t easy at all.

The developers did include some environmental puzzles but replacing a box or turning on/off a switch mostly solve these. It’s a shame those puzzles aren’t more difficult since it really would benefit the game. Aside of the puzzles there are some encounters with hostile ghosts that always result in running away before they catch up with you. These are fun variations to the gameplay but again aren’t hard to survive.

Transform into a ghost

All of this sounds like a rather traditional 2D adventure game but this changes with the special necklace Elena has. Using this necklace, Elena can communicate with the spiritual world and talk with ghost. The mansion appears to be filled with these creatures and we get to know several different stories. In the tombs we meet the ghost of a Native American who lost his body, in the mansion we meet a family that has ben cursed with a lot of deaths and there’s even a serial killer running around as a ghosts. These stories are well written and bring some depth to the game. Getting to know the ghosts and their stories is fun, solving their problems on the other hand isn’t always that much fun.
Of course you can do more than just talk using your special powers. Elena can transform to her spiritual form using the necklace as well. Transforming into a ghost enables you to go trough small cracks or posses objects to open doors for Elena. As a ghost you can only change the world around Elena a little, in order to advance you always need to return to your human form. This co-operation between both ghost and human is really fun and clever, it reminded us of older games such as Geist for GameCube. It’s a fun mechanism but we hoped for more manipulation of the real world to be honest.

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Great visuals 

This brings us to the last and probably best part of the game, the visuals. Everything in Whispering Willows is hand-drawn and looks incredible. It plays like an interactive cartoon or graphic novel; everything is very sharp with a lot of attention to details. The moving cut scenes aren’t that impressive and look like moving images but aside of that, the game truly looks great. From character creation to environments; everything is filled with details and everything looks like a high quality playable cartoon.

The music also adds to the atmosphere, remaining rather calm while you’re looking for clues but transforms into a heart pumping beat when enemies are chasing you. The presentation is by far the best aspect of Whispering Willows.

WillowsVerdict
The Good: The bad:
+ Gorgeous visuals – Puzzles are too easy
+ Great mechanism – Walking is too slow
+ You’re on your own – Gets boring rather fast

Whispering Willows isn’t a game that everybody will enjoy playing. Thanks to the huge environments and lack of running when you’re inside, it’s a rather slow game. Since the game doesn’t give hints on where you need to go, finding the right path can get rather frustrating. Aside of this, the game does feature an interesting mechanism and switching between your ghost and human form works very well. The story and characters are interesting enough to keep you going but some more challenging puzzles would have helped the game a lot. It’s not a bad game but it could have been better with some small changes.

3.5 out of 5:

3.5ster

Got interested in games since I could read. Started with Nintendo but evolved into an all-round gamer. I love all kind of games; triple A games to Indie. If the vibe is right, I'll enjoy playing it.