While its methodical pace won’t be for all tastes, Whispering Willows is a great example of an indie game that does some cool things with an ancient formula. It’s a light horror adventure game that happens to be side-scrolling and going to be visually familiar to fans of many arcade and console titles. There’s no run button here, so young Elena Elkhorn’s exploration efforts will be a languidly paced but somewhat spooky journey in and around the haunted mansion she’s searching for her lost father in. That slow pace noted above means your character and the game she’s in requires you to take in every sight and sound offered (which is fine as a lot of work went into making the game). But as this isn’t action heavy at all, the bulk of the story is told through journal notes found while walking about and you don’t want to go into this expecting to be frightened out of your seat by anything resembling a jump scare or gore galore.
That said, the game’s frights come in a few forms from creepy-looking ghostly things only Elena’s spirit form can see to areas where darkness and strange visual elements make Elena’s trip mildly to moderately terrifying if you’re into the vibe the game creates. The dev team also deserves major props for making Elena of Native American descent, which explains her helpful spirit-walking powers she can use thanks to an amulet gifted to her by her father.
In order to proceed in the game, Elena needs to let her spirit side loose in order to solve puzzles, find useful items and even speak to the restless dead in order to help them with a few requests to help them move on. The search for her father leads to an interesting split in the story as the notes Elena finds soon hint at grimmer goings on I won’t reveal here. While the game isn’t all that lengthy, the dev team really put a lot of thought into making Elena and journey really memorable. Save for some too comic-bookish looking art here and here (it needed to a bit more spooky) There’s an excellent hand-drawn aesthetic here. Additionally, a great score and sound work plus more than enough variety in the maps make exploration always interesting. The overall game isn’t all that challenging and in fact, it’s a case where the journey is one for Elena as well as players who invest the time it takes to complete the adventure.
The game arrives on the Wii U with the option for GamePad or TV play and both work excellently as they should. Then again, given that Whispering Willows has been on multiple platforms by this point (PC, OUYA, PS4/Vita, Xbox One, iOS and Android),finally seeing it on a Nintendo console is more than welcome. This one perfect for mystery and old school adventure game fans who want something they can dive into for a few hours and enjoy much in the manner of a good detective story that happens to have a supernatural backbone holding it up.