A spread-shot cover of Wavetale, showcasing the main character Sigurd jumping out of the water in the direction of a giant mechanical beast.

Wavetale Review

Published: December 11, 2022 9:00 AM

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In the face of overwhelming adversity, it’s only fair that you smile at what you had. As the world turns to gloomier and more unrelenting doom, the idea of halcyon only becomes clearer and clearer; not necessarily nostalgia, but just knowing you could be happy, and you could still be happy! It’s an exercise that Wavetale certainly engages in, that’s for sure.

This is the latest title from Thunderful, a developer and publisher who has been rising higher and higher with the release of titles like Lost in Random, and the Bridge Constructor series under their belt. Wavetale finds itself a modest spot amongst the lineup, which has you playing as Sigurd, a teenage girl who is part of Strandville, a decaying archipelago kept behind a sea of “Gloom”. After this Gloom returns to threaten Sigurd’s home, she finds herself becoming one with a “Shadow” of the Gloom underwater, which Sigurd can ride and face the threat that wants to destroy her world.

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There’s a lot of ambivalence being used to describe the plot, mostly because it moves at an unrelenting pace, although it’s never a story you’re confused by. You can practically see the narrative beats and plot twists coming from a mile away, yet despite this, the predictability isn’t a detriment. Quite the opposite in fact, as Wavetale hosts some absolutely stellar writing to make a milquetoast story be impactful, emotional, and full of heart.

A cutscene of Wavetale, showcasing the game's main threat looming over a murky ocean.

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Sigurd as a character is absolutely fantastic to watch come to terms with adulthood, responsibility, loss, and the nature of humanity. Even though she grasps her newfound role in the game with an alarming quickness, she still showcases a vulnerability that now comes from aggression as opposed to coddling. Part of this is thanks to her familial relations, or rather, what few she has left, and it’s all acted with stunning realism.

I say “acted” because the game hosts a whole beret of voiced and choreographed cutscenes, all of which have one or two moments of endearing quality in them. It’s not all perfect, as Wavetale chugs a bit in more intense moments of conflict and scale, — at least on Nintendo Switch — yet something as simple as Sigurd rushing to hug someone still left me misty-eyed at the amount of emotion portrayed on screen.

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As for Wavetale’s gameplay, while not up to the same standards as the narrative, there are still a couple of aces hidden up its sleeves. Its unique selling point involves Sigurd being able to surf across the water with a breakneck speed due to the Shadow acting as a rather impromptu surfboard. Paired with parkour gameplay involving Sigurd’s grappling hook weapon, you have a slick 3-D platforming experience that never lets go of the brakes.

A gameplay screenshot of Wavetale, showcasing the main character Sigurd gliding across the waves with black clouds looming on the surface of the water.

Watch as you’ll blitz through wave after wave, threading the needle through boost slides and grappling sections, Sigurd dashing through the air like an anime character with speedlines attached. It’s a breathtaking sight, one that motivates the player to continue due to just how fun it can be. The only real downside is that the physics tends to bug out after certain resets, so the waves will cause ships in the area to bounce uncontrollably in the water, to a rather hilarious effect.

Mind you, even though the focus is almost entirely on speed, there are several moments where the game will waver out of its comfort zone with spectacle fighting. Despite some boss fights that are eerily reminiscent of Shadow of The Colossus, there’s no actual depth to the combat, as you can spam one button until everything’s dead. Your only other attack; a wimpy area-of-effect spin move, will usually end up with Sigurd getting damaged.

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While the boss fights and encounters with Wavetale’s main threat can bring a certain level of intensity and necessity, it feels more like a blight due to how unfocused combat is. Since the camera is never a finicky bugger during the more streamlined platforming sections, having it zoom in while you attempt to tackle baddies in awkward arenas leads to frustration. It honestly feels like a different game, one that knows nothing about the beauty that’s shown outside of these frankly pointless skirmishes.

A cutscene of Wavetale, showcasing main character Sigurd sitting down on the sand looking into the sea's horizon.

There are other minor attempts to make the world of Wavetale more robust and varied, like a small offering of time trials. Despite the lack of them, there are enough varying obstacle courses offered to justify their presence in switching up how you approach platforming, but the same cannot be said for the overwhelming customization content. After certain plot-critical moments, you can always return to a merchant to obtain new costumes and cosmetics, but it all feels a bit wasted.

For one, in general gameplay, the camera will always be too zoomed out and blasted with waves to appreciate Sigurd’s (quite literal) drip. Second, cutscenes in-game will switch to a default model of each character, which is understandable considering the emotional tone the game has — after all, you don’t wanna be wearing a massive crab hat while your grandmother ponders the death of her friends. Still, it’s a struggle trying to see the point of the effort made making so many different customization options when the game doesn’t call for it.

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Wavetale Review | Verdict

At its core, Wavetale is an emotionally-charged odyssey with some absolute genius storytelling pining for perfected simplicity, with an exciting movement mechanic attached. However, the attempts made to spice up the gameplay can instead murken the sheer joy presented on screen. It’s still not enough to remove a recommendation, but they should be points to consider while you decide whether to have "Fisherman's Blues" or "Yellow Submarine" on a sea-faring playlist.


TechRaptor reviewed Wavetale on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 & 5, and PC.

Review Summary

Review Summary

7.0
A hearty journey that remains tonally consistent despite its joyous mechanics, with its pointless combat and customization not being enough to drag the experience down.

Pros

  • Fantastic writing and character moments
  • Simply told, but nonetheless effective story
  • Movement mechanic is tightly designed, and exhilarating
  • Lo-fi and crunchy visual design is a warm accompaniment

Cons

  • Combat lacks the same focus as its movement schemes
  • Customization feels wasted in the face of zoomed-out action
A pixel art rendition of the author, utilizing pixel-art and a purple palette.
Author: | Staff Writer
Samiee, otherwise known by their pen-name “Gutterpunk”, is a non-binary writer who got their start in 2016 by writing too many words about Tom Clancy’s The Division. What follows until now is a… Read More