Wavetale (Xbox Series) Review

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Wavetale is a perfect example of a “feel-good” game, with charming but cliched narrative themes and a fun but familiar structure. It’s a third-person action-platformer, with a strong focus on stylish traversal and platforming, some straightforward combat, and by-the-numbers questing. Those with a nostalgic yearning for classic action-platformers will likely enjoy it; those less forgiving might argue it’s too formulaic.

Wavetale Surfing

Adventures on the high seas

Wavetale takes place in a weirdly serene, half sci-fi, half fantasy, all post-apocalyptic world. An archipelago devastated by a massive war between the people of Strandville and “The Paws”; the cataclysmic destruction of a seemingly unlimited energy source known as the “Dandelion”; and the resultant “gloom” – broiling clouds of dark fog that trap victims in a near-death state and spawn ooze-like monstrosities. You take control of young Sigrid – one of many children who lost their parents during or shortly after the war and the arrival of the gloom – living with her well-intentioned but controlling grandmother. Together, they maintain a network of “Spark” emitters that keep the gloom at bay and allow the survivors of Strandville to hold out.

Events kick off when an airship belonging to The Paws is spotted, followed by a massive surge of water and gloom. Sigrid awakens on a small island and makes contact with a dark humanoid shadow below the waves, which bonds with her and grants her the ability to walk on water. It’s the first of many mysteries you’ll discover and slowly come to understand throughout Wavetale’s 7ish-hour adventure, as Sigrid first sets out to save the survivors of Strandville, gather allies to fight back against the encroaching gloom, and ultimately discover the fate of her mother and the true nature of The Paws.

Although Wavetale relies on familiar themes and story beats, I enjoyed the overarching narrative and somewhat rushed character development. The storytelling is variable in quality, ranging from fully-voiced cutscenes with great voice work and expressive animations, radio chatter while you’re surfing the waves, and a fair amount of unvoiced talking-head text. Despite the lack of consistency, each major quest usually comes to an end with a new revelation about the source of the gloom, her mother’s past, and her ultimate fate. Thanks to this brisk pacing, the narrative provided a strong hook that kept me coming back – even when the gameplay loop grew formulaic.

Soaring across the waves and through the air

Talking gameplay, Wavetale is all about freedom of movement – so much so, I doubt the developers intended it to be so easy to circumnavigate obvious platforming elements and barriers. There are no upgrade mechanics – outside of collecting currency to buy new cosmetic outfits for Sigrid – so what you see is what you get. Thankfully, that’s not as big an issue as I thought as the puzzle-like platforming sections evolve, rather than Sigrid’s skillset. By default, she can sprint and jump twice her height with ease, while her spark net serves as a multipurpose tool used to bludgeon gloom creatures in combat, glide through the air in short bursts, or grapple towards clearly marked launch points and ledges.

Wavetale Platforming

Once you’re free to cruise across the waves and clamber up elaborate ruins jutting out of the water, traversal feels even more impressive. Sigrid can surf at high speeds, dive below the surface for a short speed boost, charge up a jump to launch onto dry land, grapple to launch rings or half-pipes to gain even more speed, or catapult off jump pads to gain incredible height. On multiple occasions, I found myself completely bypassing lifts, launch rings, and grapple points as I clambered up massive structures using the chunky geometry and inconsistent collision detection. Sure, there’s the potential to end up in a few unpolished areas, but that freedom of movement is incredibly liberating.

As for what you do with these skills? Well, Wavetale adheres closely to the classic rule-of-three approach to questing. If you need to get your grandma’s lighthouse up and running, expect to capture three “sparks”. If you need to restore a pirate fleet, that’ll be three boats to free from the gloom. Want to defeat a giant gloom serpent? Expect to climb three towers to inflict damage three times. In theory, bouts of combat are there to spice up these sequences but it feels like an afterthought with a simple move-set and limited enemy variation. Single enemies are easily stun-locked and quickly defeated, while groups can be cheesed using aerial slams. Longer sessions tend to highlight these limitations, but given the relatively short runtime, increasingly elaborate platforming sections, and promise of more narrative reveals, I kept coming back.

Wavetale Combat

There were only two significant issues, both I’m hoping can be improved with a patch. First was the camera that would sometimes fail to direct me towards the next platforming object during a fast-paced setpiece, while other times it would aggressively pull my view towards the wrong object. There’s no fall damage in most areas but this could result in frustrating reruns. My second issue was the throwaway sidequests and collectable journal entries. There are fun time trials send you hurtling along a course grabbing time-extending checkpoints as you go, but the rest boil down to item hunts. That’s already a poor choice in a game about moving fast rather than methodical exploration, and it’s made worse by the lack of a detailed quest log or the ability to talk to quest givers again and have them repeat a clue as to where an item might be found.

Style and jank

Now Wavetale is a great-looking game thanks to its chunky, vibrant, and cell-shaded style. Character models are particularly impressive, with distinctive designs and humorously-exaggerated expressions during combat and cutscenes – even if the dialogue doesn’t always sync up. The world – although built using a shared pool of assets – feels vast and each named location has a distinct atmosphere thanks to the changing time of day, weather effects, and the ever-present gloom. It also looks incredibly crisp and feels responsive on both an Xbox Series X and S, though performance drops are present on both and more common on the budget machine (in this pre-release build). While Wavetale doesn’t have the most extensive soundtrack, it uses dynamic music to generate an atmosphere, mark the transition between regions, and ramp up in intensity during combat or while platforming high above the ground. From a technical perspective, there’s probably a lot to nitpick but I found the presentation fantastic as a whole.

Waverider

Wavetale had me thinking back to another game published by Thrunderful – The Gunk. It falls into a similar niche, offering up fun but slightly janky gameplay, stylish presentation, and a feel-good story with positive messages and a satisfying conclusion – rather than the insufferable grimness and ambiguity that permeates most big-budget releases. If that a) sounds like your sort of game, and b) you’re a fan of action-platformers, Wavetale is easy to recommend. Sure, the structure might feel a little dated or too formulaic, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome and is one of those rare games that make simply getting around endlessly entertaining.

A review code for Wavetale was provided to gameblur by the publisher.

Wavetale (Xbox Series) Review

Wavetale (Xbox Series) Review
8 10 0 1
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    8/10 Very Good
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
  • Audio
    7/10 Good

The Good

  • A charming, feel-good narrative with brisk pacing
  • Slick, liberating, and endlessly entertaining traversal mechanics
  • Increasingly complex platforming challenges
  • A distinctive visual style and dynamic soundtrack

The Bad

  • Formulaic quest structure
  • Combat and sidequests feel like an afterthought
  • Some camera issues and performance drops
Total
6
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