Spooktober 2018 Entry #16 – Previous Entry: Puppeteer// Next Entry: Among The Sleep
The list the other day got me to replay TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, and what a good decision.
It’s actually kind of impressive how such a generic setting and idea can still be absolutely terrifying in this day and age, and so, it caused me to investigate. I scoured the Xbox One storefront for games involving haunted mansions or houses, and admittedly? I was disappointed, but I did find something, and it was Whispering Willows.
This is the debut title from one Night Light Interactive, a Cali-based studio who debuted today’s game on the OUYA of all consoles. Co-founded by David Logan and Michael Bellavia, the studio hasn’t made much waves, with David Logan only recently producing the fantastic Metronomicon recently, and Bellavia working on multiple animated shows, shorts and shows. Nevertheless, they are still working on games, and if Whispering Willows is anything to go by, you might be interested in what they have in store.
You play as Elena Elkhorn, a meek young lass who is on the search for her father, who was last seen investigating the nearby Willows Mansion. The untrained among her may think that she is ill-equipped for the task of finding her missing dad, but little do they know that she owns a mystical amulet that allows her to astral-project her spirit in order to communicate with the dead. Thankfully, the dead are anything but absent from the Willows Mansion, and will be helping her in her quest to find this man.
Despite Whispering Willows quite generic setting, it is unique in its venture and ambitions. It’s not looking to be Outlast, it’s not looking to be P.T., it’s aiming to be something short, sweet and the right amount of eerie that makes accessible to anybody, even those with a heart condition. You’re not going to get your scalp scared off, don’t worry.
The flow of gameplay is exceptionally generic, almost to a fault. It’s in a side-scrolling fashion, with most puzzles revolving around backtracking across the massive Mansion, and its surrounding areas, like greenhouses and crypts and such. Most obstacles will be other ghosts blocking your path to the next area, with them either wanting a specific item, or proof that they’re a ghost and stuff. Again, generic, but not to the point of boredom.
The game is also filled to the brim with hazards. It won’t be long before you’re facing off against scorpions, living trees that spring from the foliage to grab you, and let’s not forget your biggest foe throughout all of this: The Steam Pipe Of Doom. All of these will result in an insta-kill. Checkpoints are generous, but the hit detection is annoying.
Throughout all of this, you will be treated to some really well-executed atmosphere, with it never being too much of an overbearing blanket of dread. Attempting to avoid the cannibal foliage was a highlight in particular, as both timing and a calm mind in order to prevail. It’s fairly nerve-wrecking stuff, but what isn’t nerve-wrecking are the scorpions you fight.
Now these things right here? Bullshit, absolute bullshit. Not only are they placed in such tight areas with exceptionally wide path schedules, and not only is the timing window for some of these scorpions are stupidly tight, but then there’s the invisible ones. You can still see them when you astral-project, but you can’t take your body with you when you astral- project, so you’re essentially fumbling in the dark and dying to unnecessary crap.
The characters you’ll meet along the way are fairly varied, but written in stereotypical ways and not given enough context. The Native-American “Flying Hawk” springs to mind as a character who could’ve been a great insight, not just as a tragic figure, but someone who could’ve provided Elena with some sort of secondary father-figure role. Instead, you seek to rest his soul and that’s that.
Aside from that, there’s not many other characters in the story to dwell on. Elena’s dad is there and then his arc is done, the Irish-American guy’s connection to the plot is seemingly brushed over like it’s not a big deal, despite his insane history, and… that’s pretty much it. Except Sky Flower, a young Native-American girl, whose payoff I won’t spoil either. Not because it’s good, mind you, but because it’s connected to the more important Irish-American.
Even with some really absurd curveballs thrown at the players, the game is at a breakneck pace, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Your first playthrough could take anywhere from two-and-a-half hours to four, and because it’s so brief, some of the characters in the story are written off immediately, as soon as Elena no longer has a use for them. It’s never given any weight, it’s just a quick “OhWow,YouFoundTheThingThatKeptMeHere,AndNowIAmLainToRest,KThxBye”.
The game ends as quickly as it began, but it wasn’t a journey wasted. The journey taken into Willows Mansion was one that was enveloping, it was both comfortable and unnerving at the same time, and even though I left the manor empty with dissatisfaction, I can see the bright sparks. They’re just not buffed out enough to shine for everyone.
In the end, Whispering Willows is an interesting title, but not one to keep you satisfied for long. You buy it, you play it, you lose your mind when you find out what the Irish-American did, you finish it, and you uninstall it. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, and even though the potential wasn’t fully realized, it still shows that Night Light is capable of something special in the future.
Good luck with Nomad, lads.
This review of Whispering Willows is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
It's just a bite-size horror title you can burn through in a day. Several missteps are made, but it's worth it.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.