World to the West journeys to the Nintendo Switch as a sequel to Rain Games‘ other self-published & developed, stylish Switch game, Teslagrad. Created in the same inspired setting of Old Europe, players aren’t required to know the full details of Teslagrad, as World to the West can be played as a stand-alone title. The departure from a side-scrolling 2D game and into a polygonal, top-down 2.5D experience adds a bit more depth to “WttW”. It’s cute, charming, filled with clever ideas and has the personality to carry the game, but bears specific pacing issues which the player may feel that most of the game drags. You can expect a good game out of World to the West, but you’ll also need lots of patience.
The best comparison to be made for its gameplay is any 2D The Legend of Zelda game, with the exception of no item inventory and 4 playable characters. Portions of the map screen also reveal themselves once visited. As for the locations themselves, though there are varied landscapes, you’ll be passing through them more times than you think is necessary. WttW is a chapter-based action-adventure telling the tale of 4 individuals whose stories are interlinked. The game is open enough for exploration with closed off or hard-to-reach areas in the mix as a character needed may not be playable during that segment or an item/ability has yet to be introduced for that character in order to advance.
Slowly, but surely, we get introduced to our 4 main characters and each introduction kicks off the beginning of their current predicament. Players are only able to control 1 character at a time, but depending on the chapter at least 2 may be switched out for the duration. All four are unique with their own move set. We have Klaus the Orphan, a well-mannered cute kid who specializes in digging holes used as stealth or for reaching other areas. Lumina the Teslamancer takes advantage of electricity and can teleport by zapping herself in a particular direction. Miss Teri is a mind-bender who can take control of creatures, who also have their own move set, by whipping her scarf at them. Then we have Sir Clonington, a stout man who is well-experienced in pugilism and sports high confidence of himself. As the story unfolds, characters will learn new abilities and gain new items mapped to specific buttons whose actions may be performed at any time. Later in the game, players will find that while each character have their own strengths and weaknesses, some can produce the same results by different means, such as destroying cracked boulders. An example of different results is one character can defeat enemies while another may only be able to stun them. The rest of their moves should be left up to you to find out. Their differences add positive flavor.
While the characters are well-designed, the means of traversal can leave a bad taste. Scattered throughout the world and underground portions are totem poles which bear the 4 faces of our main characters. These act as save point devices which you can fast travel to. Sounds convenient so far. They are a time saver and you can freely transport to one from another for any of them you have found; for that character only. This is undoubtedly the one big weakness in World to the West. If you need one character to be in the same area as another in order to solve a puzzle, this means you’ll have to switch to that character who’s behind and take the long walk. Some characters might have to take a different route suited for their skills. Later in the game, you’ll be able to have all 4 characters at once and the entire map open to you. While that freedom is welcomed, the tedium also becomes heavier. Essentially, there’s a realization that all 4 characters must take their own journey that makes sense to the story instead of being able to teleport to a totem another character has come across. The world itself is the core gameplay element and being able to cheese your way through it by having certain characters skip sections they haven’t stepped foot on can water down the experience so it’s understandable that this was the design choice. There’s always a path that needs clearing by a certain character in order to open it up for another. This seems fine on paper, but the problem is you’re only able to switch characters at the totem poles themselves. This can be a process which taxes the player’s patience. Especially later in the game where there’s a required massive fetch-quest, 4 characters needing to open up parts of the world for the others who have yet to find these totem poles while dealing with load times up to around 10 seconds per cell will easily take the player out of the experience. At the very least, being able to switch to characters at any given time would have made this a smoother experience.
There’s still a lot to appreciate with WttW, though; Like the rest of it. The writing lets all of the characters’ personalities shine. The world is crafted with all 4 characters in mind holding secrets and is generally designed to be fun despite what’s been said previously about navigation. There are a few boss fights scattered here and there. The puzzles are decent. There is something to take away from this, however. There’s certainly a retro “pixel” element to hit boxes. For instance, you may fall into water when you didn’t plan to. Often times you’ll need to be quite precise when attacking enemies. Clonington’s spin attack, as an example, doesn’t necessarily hit all the targets who he comes in contact with. Combat in general is sort of clunky, but it works well enough. The same can be said for the puzzle-platforming sections. Our Teslamancer has the ability to levitate on specific platforms and zip through gates and to other platforms. It’s easy to miss her destination and be off by a hair. Knaus has the ability to crawl through tiny spaces. I found myself being “gobbled up” by a grue (reptilian enemy) at the same exact moment I went to the crawl space, instantly killing me even when I wasn’t in its mouth. Miss Teri’s scarf sometimes doesn’t latch onto things the very moment you are in its vicinity. Little things. Telling yourself that you should have made it might happen a few times. Occasionally, you can also get stuck which means you’ll need to die or reload your save.
The game has a hand-drawn, painterly art style that looks good in specific areas. The characters are cute and the animations of the main characters are very likable. Knaus the Orphan has an adorable run while his cap bounces on his head and Sir Clonington has this structured fitness walk as you hear him do a method of breathing. The game has style. I enjoy the detail of the indoors when in a town. I do find the art to be good to look at, but there are bland textures and noticeable geometry when it comes to most of the world. For how simple it looks, I was expecting a higher framerate. The game never technically slows down, however. There are proper shadows and it’s a stable experience.
The soundtrack deserves praise, too. There’s a very folk and down-to-earth vibe to the music of World to the West. The tracks invoke a sense of nostalgia that I can’t place, but it definitely works.