Developer: Rain Games
Publisher: Rain Games
Release Date: May 5th, 2017
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
World to the West comes to us from Rain Games as a follow-up to their previous game Teslagrad. It’s an exploration puzzle game, which take a lot of cues from Metroidvania level design. You control four different heroes, each possessing different abilities. They are all able to explore to every corner of the map, but their different abilities determine how they get there. It executes superbly on its central concept of exploration, but World to the West isn’t an entirely pleasant experience.
As previously mentioned, World to the West is an exploration puzzle game meaning you solve puzzles as you explore the game. Obstacles that obstruct your progress are scattered throughout the game’s world requiring players to solve their way forward. Each puzzle asks the player to observe the surrounding area for a solution to their current road block. In this way, discovering the path to your destination is far more rewarding than simply walking to it.
The range of abilities helps to further accentuate the exploration. While there is some overlapping mechanics, each of the four heroes is equipped with different skills that enforce how they can travel. For example, Lumina is a mage and has the ability to teleport, allowing for easy transport over bodies of water. Our other heroes do not possess teleportation, so they must find different ways to reach the same locations. Having each hero re-contextualize exploration helps to keep World to the West engaging.
Having four playable characters also lets players control the game’s pacing. In the latter half of the game, you’ll be set loose to explore to your heart’s content. You can move all four heroes independently letting you take each to a different corner of the map. In this way, players can switch to a new set of mechanics at will allows to control the mechanical pacing of World to the West preventing things from getting stale.
The game’s aesthetics are also strong. While I’m not a huge fan of the blocky look of the game, the use of colour is great. A wide array of colour helps to make many areas pop giving them their own distinct flavor.
Additionally, the music is incredibly catchy and helps to reinforce the tone set in each environment. It also gives impact to story moments that otherwise wouldn’t have any. Both elements help to provide a great backdrop for all of the exploration at the forefront of World to the West.
While I was enamored with World to the West once I hit the back half of the game, the first half has a pacing problem. During the opening hours of World to the West you’re unable to explore freely and the puzzles are all simplistic as you lack your full suite of abilities. This makes the first several hours feel like a long tutorial, which might dissuade some players from reaching the truly great part of the game.
The combat is also extremely unsatisfying. Characters attack without any weight behind the hits and are generally cumbersome to control. The strongman hero Collington serves as a great example. Despite being a hulking mass of muscles, all of his strikes land as if he is slapping the enemy. In conjunction with how stiff combat feels, each encounter is an absolute chore.
Finally, there is a general lack of polish throughout the whole of the game. I played World to the West for about eleven hours. On average I ran into a bug every hour. Some of the highlights include getting stuck in the floor during a boss fight, getting stuck in place after falling into water, and trapping one of the characters underwater. These examples, in combination with the occasional broken shader, continually took me out of the experience and gave the whole game an unpolished feel.
World to the West is a hard game to recommend. I loved it. Well…I loved part of it. The game understands how to make exploration engaging by having micro-puzzles throughout the world with each character re-contextualizing how you need to approach the puzzles. In combination with the aesthetics and player controlled pacing, in the latter half, World to the West presents itself as a masterclass in exploratory gameplay. It’s incredibly disappointing that the poor pacing in the first half, flimsy combat, and general lack of polish tarnish the experience. If you are a fan of exploratory gameplay consider checking this out, but everyone else should avoid this game with a ten foot pole.