Game Review: Islands of Wakfu
Release: March 30th, 2011
Developer: Ankama Studio
Available Platforms: XBLA
MSRP: 800 MSP
ESRB Rating: E+10
Website: Official Website
A girl who everyone seem to envy for being too special, a Dragon that happens to be her brother, a world getting ready for its impending doom, a butterfly-and-flowers-based diet? Oh yeah, you’ve reached the Islands of Wakfu; the newest game from french developers Ankama, famous for their MMORPG Dofus, which is allegedly set in the same universe as their upcoming game Wakfu (another MMORPG) which along with the game in question, belongs to a transmedia project that includes comics, trading card games and an animated television series. In contrast to the other, turn-based pieces in their catalog, Islands of Wakfu is an adventure game (mixed with beat’em up and shoot’em up mechanics) slightly reminiscent to The Legend of Zelda, where you’ll fight your way through various beautiful environments while collecting stuff, getting gradually stronger and solving puzzles.
The story sounds a little convoluted, mainly due to the weird words put together in such universe, but it’s actually pretty basic. Taking place about 10.000 before Dofus (the aforementioned game), Islands of Wakfu follows Nora and her dragon brother Efrim, the first being a rejected priestess who excels at using Wakfung (close combat and teleportation) and the latter being a water dragon who fires Wakfu (in this world, everything seems to be called like that) from its mouth as they desperately try to save what’s left of the world of the Eliatropes after the invasion of the Lu-Fus; the bad guys who feed on the land’s Wakfu (think of it as FFVII’s Lifestream) and are practically draining out every sign of life on the planet.
Being played on a 3/4 perspective (think Super Mario RPG), the game starts looking like a regular RPG of old, slowly teaching you the basic skills in some sort of forced tutorial, where you’ll talk to people, learn how to swap between the two characters you’ll simultaneously control (except when in co-op), how to attack, block and teleport. The game offers an evident sense of exploration but it’s mostly linear; it’s even divided in episodes and you get scores after finishing one. At this point, the game seems incredibly promising, because the music is brilliant and soothing, and the visuals, albeit a bit Flash-like, are nothing short of charming. In fact, the game seems to have top-notch production values if it wasn’t for its most prominent flaw: the actual combat.
You see, the game looks like a glorified Flash game, but a gorgeous game nonetheless; the problem arises when it controls like a Flash game. There’s a highly noticeable delay on the inputs, which make it incredibly frustrating to fight the constantly increasing array of monsters. This is aggravated when you have to switch characters in between a heated combat, and when they move like being commanded by a 1994’s keyboard; making it difficult to properly block incoming attacks, effectively leaving you as an easy prey for enemies that comes in hordes, specially when they’re accompanied by the tough bosses. The combat’s flaws can (and should) be lessened by the fun co-op mode. In fact, Islands of Wakfu feels like a co-op game all around; one that doesn’t get the right balance when playing it solo.
On the other hand, the rest of the moves work just fine when not in combat. The teleportation ability is quite an intriguing one, and it brought some cool puzzles and gameplay mechanics to the table, as well as its counterpart; the Platypus, which is essentially a duck that carries stuff. This is also true to the fact the two main characters are so different in the way they interact with the world around them, like how they absorb the Wakfu from native creatures and use it to their advantage. In addition, there’s access to magic tricks and new moves, which can be obtained and upgraded on special spots via certain honey jars, effectively rising a seemingly lacking level of exploration and role-playing.
Despite its unfortunate flaw, the game is an absolute delight. The art direction is simply superb, featuring the work of this guy, who not only has created some charismatic characters, but a series of convincing and utterly beautiful locales that look very rich on texture and color work. The music is equally brilliant; as stated before, is soothing, relaxing and gives an appropriate perception of a magical yet realistic world. The game’s narrative and its overall pacing is a little slow, which is weird considering this is an action game posing as an adventure piece with very little RPG aspects, but I managed to enjoy it; the music really sucks you in, and this world is pretty and worthy of calm examination.
Julian’s Final Say
Islands of Wakfu is a game that took me by surprise; I honestly didn’t know about Ankama‘s previous work and little did I know about the whole transmedia universe these french folks were creating. It was a pleasant surprise, though, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoy immersive worlds, well-told stories and fantastic music. The combat, flawed as it is, at least tries to be somehow original, but those eager to find lighting-fast moves and commands, are in for a huge disappointment.
- Gorgeous visuals and top-notch presentation
- Brilliantly composed music
- Interesting gameplay
- Slow, unresponsive, inaccurate combat
- The game looks like an RPG, but plays mainly like an action game