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The Whispered World
Platform: PC
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Genre: Adventure
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 04/26/10



Scorecard
Graphics: 96%
Sound: 80%
Gameplay: 80%
Control: N/A
Story: 85%
Overall: 84%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Beautiful.
 
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Spot is frequently abused. Against his will, too. He can't talk.
 
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The world is full of charming creatures such as this... "cow."
 
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Sadwick and the Angry Inch(worm).
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Kyle E. Miller
The Whispered World
05/19/10
Kyle E. Miller

Once in a while, a game comes along that very few have heard of; a game no one marks their calendar for. It's a quiet game, and it has some rough edges and blemishes. It's easy to pick on and it might get overlooked amongst bigger releases. Once in a while, a game like The Whispered World is born; a flawed, yet ultimately loveable piece of art to those who appreciate its subtle gifts.

Sadwick the morose clown is about to destroy the world, says our narrator. Plagued by nightmares featuring collapsing landscapes and an enigmatic egg-like being, Sadwick really just wants to be left alone. Forces beyond his control have other plans, however, in affirmation of the truism that good folk just can't be left alone. Sadwick is soon swept up in a grandiose adventure that he hopes will bring an end to his nightmares for good.

The Whispered World features a stunningly beautiful and imaginative world that becomes one of the prime motivations for the player to complete the game. Each pre-rendered, hand drawn background is an exquisite work of art bolstered by occasional animations nestled within the still artwork. Writhing tentacles, flowing waterfalls, and shooting stars bring each scene to magical life. The world is also inhabited by strange and amusing creatures, many of which become central to the unfolding story. The imagination packed into the game rivals that of a Miyazaki film. Sporadic animated cutscenes highlight points of action, but these are of a much lower quality. Nonetheless, I couldn't wait to get to the next screen and discover what wonders awaited.

The competent story that propels Sadwick through this enchanting land contains enough mystery and tension to merit a full playthrough. There is a constant sense of something amiss, and while the conclusion isn't entirely original, it fits the game and completes a poignant story arc. If players pay attention to the story, a theme even develops and the end provides ample resonance.

Unfortunately, many gamers may not be able to handle the protagonist for more than a few minutes. Sadwick is utterly depressing, sensitive, pessimistic, and hopeless, and he isn't afraid to say so. He finds something negative to say about every object in the game and his self-deprecation knows no limits. In our patriarchal culture of machismo and concealed emotion, Sadwick may find few friends. Admittedly, his mood became cloying and tiresome even to me at times, but overall he is a well-written and relatable character. To his further discredit, however, his voice is... interesting, to be optimistic. While very fitting and full of personality, his speech impediment and somewhat whiny tone will undoubtedly be an immediate turn-off to many. Try to be patient though. He might just grow on you.

Secondary characters are just as strongly defined as Sadwick, albeit in different ways. No matter how crazy the characters were, however, my suspension of disbelief remained intact. All the inhabitants of the world somehow seemed real in the context of the fantasy setting. Each of the characters boasts impressive personality packed into their sprites. Some personal favorites include the witty Rock Brothers, Sadwick's senile Grandpa, and the laborer who loves to shout. Talented voice actors assist in creating entertaining and fully realized characters, although there are some improperly read lines and even bizarre mispronunciations. There are also a few lines with incorrect audio, some typos in the subtitles, and even a line spoken in a foreign language. Hopefully a future patch will clear up these oversights.

The dialogue itself is well written with a wide vocabulary, good translation from the original German, and solid humor. Clever wordplay and dark humor make for a laugh out loud game. In fact, humor may be Sadwick's redeeming feature. As terrible a clown as he is, he comes up with some hilarious material. The world is full of interactive objects, and Sadwick can look, touch, and taste/talk to all of them as well as combine multiple items already in his inventory. He gives a unique response to most interactions, many of which are humorous. Those that aren't are usually somewhat profound and surprisingly thoughtful. And to prove that the game never takes itself too seriously, there are self-referential, fourth-wall-breaking jokes as well. Just like Sadwick, the developers can be self-deprecating too and admit that random stones are peculiarly useful. And despite TWW's cute exterior, there are a few swears and certainly some violent moments, although no gore. The humor ranges from mature without gratuity to cute without too much cheesiness.

As far as interaction goes, Sadwick can manipulate objects, talk to NPCs, and collect items for later use like any other point and click adventure. Puzzles typically come in two varieties. Most commonly, Sadwick must combine items in specific ways and/or use various collected objects on a point in the environment to gain access to new areas or additional, different objects. Less often, TWW presents an "actual" puzzle, such as the mandatory sliding block delight.

Some puzzles are logical, concise, and take a few minutes of careful analysis. Other puzzles are illogical, sprawling, and may require a walkthrough to solve. There is no formal hint generator built into the game. The space bar reveals all the hot-spots on a screen, and sometimes an NPC or object reveals a clue, but these only go so far in helping. If possible, play the game with a friend. Or a room full of them. Who knew that you can lure a mouse out of its hole with an old sock? Oh, it must smell like cheese. Why didn't I think of that before?

Another problem occurs because of inconsistencies in Sadwick's abilities. He can't pick a mushroom, yet he can catch a fly with chopsticks, for example. For how ineffective he can be, Sadwick can really do some amazing things when he puts his mind to it. But it's up to the player to figure out when he's willing to do that. After learning how the game works and what sort of tricks it pulls, these aren't enormous issues, but I solved more than one puzzle by randomly trying out every object on an out-of-reach item.

The good puzzles made me smile, however, and I prided myself on not using a walkthrough for some of the tougher ones. Overall, it's a satisfying experience. The game also brings back some of the same items and tactics again and again, creating continuity over TWW's four chapters. Each chapter feels very different, and each time Sadwick starts over with no objects and new environments to explore. Thus, the few points of familiarity due wonders to draw the game into a cohesive whole.

One of those constants is Sadwick's best friend, Spot the caterpillar. This adorable green fellow accompanies Sadwick for the entire adventure and proves to be the crux of many puzzles. He obtains various forms, such as fat Spot and fire Spot, each able to help Sadwick in new and engaging ways. He is useable just like any other object, but he is always present and allows Sadwick to do things he normally would not since he is a separate entity. There are some surprises in store for the endearing sidekick, and he even fits into the game's theme. By the end, he seems like a real friend.

The Whispered World lasts for 10 to 15 hours, although a tough puzzle could have the anti-walkthrough player stumped for a few more. Although the hand drawn backgrounds are the game's only flawless aspect, I never wanted to stop playing, even in the face of a seemingly insurmountable puzzle. TWW just doesn't feel like any old game and it doesn't feel like a game I've played before. The humor, characters, mystery, and sense of magic are rarely combined as effectively as they are in TWW, drawn together by astounding artwork. Get past the surface flaws and delve into another world for a few days. There are few worlds I'd so like to return to.



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