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Return to Wither

  • Roden
  • 04/25/2015 10:41 PM
  • 1007 views
I reviewed this game a long time ago, when I had less experience with games and telling non-standard stories with them. I decided to delete my review and try again, this time with a renewed perspective after having made similar games of my own.

Gameplay

The gameplay in Wither is all exploration based, and its very straightforward. This is important, because in a game focused around a mysterious story and the player's own investigation into the story you don't want people getting stuck or bogged down. The goal of the game is to find twelve flowers scattered around the small town, and doing so is made simple, intuitive and interesting via good old school map design. I noticed that the maps were very effectively leading me from flower to flower, which is commendable and the kind of good level design not often seen in RM games.

Worldbuilding (Setting, Atmosphere, Writing & Characters)

Wither is set within a small, eerie town clearly modelled after Gameboy titles such as Pokemon Red. The game accomplishes a lot within the small time you spend here, and gives the town a mysterious, otherworldly feeling that I can't quite explain. It's the kind of place that you don't really want to spend a lot of time in, because you feel like something bad is coming towards you. I would compare it to the feeling of being in an abandoned house or a dark forest, although it doesn't manage to match it. It's like an extremely light version of that feeling, and truth be told I would have liked it to be a bit stronger, but it works for what the game is.

The writing is perfectly matched to the Gameboy vibe, and even includes a couple of shoutouts to GB titles (such as the smell you later guy, or the "who put all these stools here" line) which was a nice touch. There's not much to the characters- at least, not a lot is said. A lot of the major development is hidden within the story of the flowers, but it's fun to find it out gradually and form your own opinion about the story. The NPC characters don't have a lot of dialogue, but are well written enough as to not be totally lifeless.

The real issue with the worldbuilding isn't in its quality, but rather is in the fact that the game is so short and quick. You don't really have time to be exposed enough to the elements within for them to make a lasting effect on you- by the time the feeling is there, its already gone. The nightmare scene is the only part of the game that stuck with me, which I think is largely due to the music above all else.

Aesthetics (Graphics & Music)

This is my favourite part of the game. Some of the graphics are ripped, but for the most part the custom tiles are done so well that you can't even distinguish them from the AAA materials. The entire retro aesthetic of the graphics is pulled off so well that it makes me (having done 4 colour GB graphics before) kind of jealous. It feels like you're really playing a Gameboy game.

The music is great. It fits the Gameboy aesthetic and helps to strengthen the vibe the game gives off. One song in particular that stood out to me is the Nightmare track, which is legitimately creepy and sort of gave me the chills. It made me think of all the video game creepypastas I've read, and for a minute or two I felt like I was playing a game straight out of an urban legend.

Overall

I enjoyed Wither a lot more this time around. Perhaps it was because I knew of the story and flower locations going in this time, or perhaps it was because I spent time making games of a similar concept myself, and I understood the creator's intentions better. In any case, I think this review is a much more accurate representation of my thoughts on this game, and I'm glad I decided to revisit it. I still don't really think it's that great, but I appreciate it a lot more for what it is now.

Posts

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I think a three/three and a half star review for Wither is probably appropriate. When I played it, I found that the aesthetics/atmosphere were definitely engaging, but, beyond that, I had a hard time "getting anything" from it. I understand the narrative, but, as an art game, it's not expressing anything particularly interesting or thought-provoking, and there's not anything going on in terms of character development, mostly because of the limitations of the Gameboy setting. Instead, it felt a lot like something like John Carpenter's The Ward where the story was built around a twist that the audience could see from a mile away (because they've seen that same twist before--actually, a better film analogue would be Jacob's Ladder, which I also didn't really like).

Seriously, the "purgatory exists and YOU'RE IN IT" plotline needs to be put to bed. Even one of the later Hellraisers uses it.


This game felt like it was just an exercise in aesthetics--and, again, they totally work, especially because of how the innocent connotations of the Gameboy work to subvert the serious nature of the story. I just wish the story itself were more nuanced and adult.
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