Wavetale (2021) Review

Wavetale is a complete surprise in more ways than one.

First off, it was announced and released out of nowhere last week during Thunderful’s game showcase. And it not only released as soon as it was revealed for the first time, it also released as a Stadia Pro title, meaning Pro subscribers could play it for free (or more accurately at no additional cost).

Thunderful’s showcase had the energy of a good E3 press conference. They even got Mark Hamill to be the showman! And sure Thunderful had a slew of interesting games to show off, including its next installment in the long-running SteamWorld series, but it was Wavetale that caught my eye.

Wavetale is a third-person action adventure game with an eye-catching squiggly, hand-drawn-looking art style that I wasn’t sure if I liked at first, but it definitely grew on me over the course of my 5 hour playthrough.

You play a young girl named Sigrid, living with her grandmother on an island until an event happens that leaves the world clouded and dark. It’s up to you to find a way to get rid of the new black, fog of war clouding your once sunshiny, idyllic world.

The only problem is your grandmother is a little overly protective of you after losing your mother. However, it soon becomes clear that you’re the only one who can do what must be done. That’s because you have a futuristic, electric net that allows you to battle the mucky creatures that popped up all over the islands. And very early on, you have an encounter with a curious shadow figure that swims around the sea, but allows you to put your feet on her’s, allowing you to surf around at break-neck pace.

Wavetale never gets very deep in terms of its combat. It’s pretty basic light, hack and slash combat that never evolves or gets very interesting. But that never bothered me, because the game is all about its movement, platforming, characters and storytelling.

You can double jump and dash, and hold the jump button to hover while the character twirls her net above her head like a helicopter. And of course, surfing around on the water builds up quite a bit of momentum as well. You can hold the jump button while on the water to build up to a big jump that tosses the character high in the air, and with momentum forward in the direction she’s heading.

Combine that with the dash and the helicopter, and suddenly you start to see how satisfying this game’s movement mechanics are. They all come together to form a satisfying sense of momentum. It’s some of the tightest, most satisfying movement mechanics I’ve experienced in a game this year.

And the game puts it to good use as you explore the islands for items, including these yellow electric blips that look like they came straight out of a Rayman game.

Those yellow blips (whatever they’re actually called) are used in an item shop to buy cosmetic items for your character. And they’re scattered all over the map waiting for you to find.

In some ways, Wavetale reminded me a lot of the Bowser’s Fury addition to Super Mario 3D world that came out earlier this year. You spend a lot of time in both games riding around on the water, stopping at islands for some platforming segments to activate towers (or lighthouses) that clear away smokey, black muck before battling giant sized enemies that tower over you. 

And much like in Bowser’s Fury, it’s a lot of fun to do all that stuff in Wavetale.

Along the way, you’ll help the citizens of this quirky world with their minor problems, and you’ll team up with pirates and sailors to solve much bigger problems. 

Surfing alongside ships while their occupants marvel at your ability to move across the water (and often faster than the ships themselves) makes you feel like a superhero. And you end up being the only one capable of fighting back against the dark goop spreading throughout the area.

Just as important as its satisfying gameplay is Wavetale’s story. Let’s just say it tells a more character driven story than you might have expected.

The game’s main character, Sigrid, is an only child and has lost her parents. Her mother is frequently mentioned, her father, not so much. But the story is a personal tale of discovery of what became of Sigrid’s mother and how her unique abilities are tied to her.

It’s certainly a more touching tale than I expected going in, and I’ll leave the story description at that.

Wavetale is an extremely satisfying little adventure that feels a bit short at around 4-5 hours. But it does open up after credits roll to allow further exploration and completion of side quests. There’s also a journal full of character profiles and little bits of lore and story to find and fill up. How much you feel like doing all of that is up to you, but if you go for a 100 percent completion, you can squeeze a little bit more out of the game.

Wavetale a rare gem that Stadia locked down as a timed exclusive, with a console release expected next year. And Stadia needs more of these. Since Google shut down its internal games development studio, it’s going to need to get a lot more of these exclusives from third parties, even if they’re only timed exclusives. The fact that is dropped as a day one Stadia Pro title is the icing on the cake. 

Sadly, Stadia still doesn’t receive the same amount of coverage as any of the other platforms out there. So this game isn’t getting the coverage and recognition it deserves. I suspect when this game does hit other platforms next year, we’ll hear all about what a great game it is. It’s just as great on Stadia. And you can play it now.

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