This version of Wik & the Fable of Souls puts Reflexive Entertainment's popular downloadable game in an affordable retail package that makes it easy for gamers with slow (or no) Internet connections to install and play. The game presents 2D platform action with a highly original lead character called Wik, who looks something like a cross between a bullfrog and a Russ troll. Wik can be controlled completely with mouse-clicks. His powerful legs let him leap great distances, but he uses his extendable tongue for just about everything else. He can catch all sorts of bugs with a flick of his tongue, or attach the tip to a high tree branch and swing himself around the screen. He can even suck up an acorn and spit it back out as a high-velocity projective weapon. Levels are played on a fixed screen, and usually involve collecting grubs and shooing away flying insects. The game comes with 120 levels that become progressively more challenging.
Casual games are often known for their simple cuteness. Happy, smiling faces rendered in bright, primary colors run and jump against bouncy theme music, collecting items and avoiding enemies. This is the standard.
Then there's Wik and the Fable of Souls. Wik shares some of the conventions of the casual platformer - you still have to collect coins and items and avoid enemies. But when the items are crawling green bugs, and the enemies are realistically rendered poisonous scorpions, you know you're not dealing with a standard platformer.
Wik's most striking feature is its graphics. Verdant forests and steep mountains are rendered with rich, earthy greens and browns to make some truly organic levels. No square blocks or rectangular platforms here - everything is gently curved for an elegant, natural look that makes each level a joy to look at. The strong graphical design extends to the characters, which won't win any awards for cuteness, but will win acclaim for their smooth animation and the illusion of life they convey.
Wik further separates itself from the field with a unique mouse-based control scheme. Wik, a misshapen gray frog, can't simply walk to his desired location, instead, a quick right-click makes him jump as close to the mouse cursor as possible. Left clicking makes Wik use his tongue to lick up items and enemies or spit them out again. Wik can also use his tongue to swing on outcroppings, using his own momentum to swing up to higher platforms. The novel scheme takes some getting used to, but it makes complex moves like jumping across the screen or swinging in a giant arc much easier than a keyboard based controls.
The game's originality it its biggest boon, but it can also be its downfall. The muted color palette means that enemies and essential items can be hard to see against the background - a problem which become a huge liability when the screen gets crowded. The organic structure can make it hard to figure out what exactly is a platform that you can stand on and hang on and what is just a background element. Similarly the mouse-based controls can lead to a lack of precision in faster-paced levels. Often, Wik's jumps end up just a bit off from where you expect them to fall, which can lead to quick death in some of the later levels.
Wik is divided into two main modes. In story mode, you have to quickly leap around levels sucking up crawling green grubs with your tongue and spitting them into Slotham - a plodding purple behemoth that slowly trudges along the floor of the level. It's simple enough at first, but the game slowly adds all types of flying bugs that will take the grubs before you can get to them, and stinging scorpions that will take your life if you get to close. The intricately designed levels also get much harder to navigate, requiring some novel approaches to get around. (The actual "story" - told in some truly awful rhyming couplets in between each level - is nonsensical to the point of baffling and can safely be ignored.)
Challenge mode focuses more on Wik's acrobatic skills. The challenge here is to figure out exactly how to get to seemingly unreachable platforms and grubs. Speed is important, but the levels are much calmer than the sometimes frenetic story mode levels. It's a test of intellect rather than a test of reflexes and provides a welcome change of pace.
Overall, Wik is a little too novel for its own good. It's commendable for all the new things it tries, but the novelty causes more annoyance than joy. Still , if you've had enough of simple, cute platformers that never seem to do anything different, Wik is definitely worth your time.
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