Starting off as a Kickstarter back in 2013 and reaching its target pretty quickly, Whispering Willows has made its way on to the Xbox One. The game is quite different from any puzzle adventure I have played – I can’t recall many games featuring astral projection other than Prey on the Xbox 360, and Second Sight on the original Xbox – the game is about a young girl named Elena whose father has gone missing. She has a vision of things to come and her father’s whereabouts, so she grabs his coat, the family amulet and sets off on the adventure of her life.
The game begins with our heroine going to the mansion where her father works and quickly winds up in the catacombs after a seemingly unexpected encounter with a ghost. Elena quickly learns about her ancestors and the amulet’s shamanic powers that grants her the ability of astral projection.
When equipped, the amulet allows Elena to project her ghost and travel to places that her physical form cannot reach. Unfortunately you can’t travel through walls but you can squeeze through small openings and possess objects that can be manipulated so that you can progress through the story. When the amulet glows a bright green it means there is a nearby friendly ghost that will talk to Elena and help her. A bright red glow will warn of an enemy lurking around, which will sometimes be in a cage or a cave that you can only see in her ghost form or under a bright ceiling light. Elena has no means of attacking or defending herself against enemies, but she can pass safely past by studying their movements in her astral state and returning to her physical form when it is safe to pass.
Through astral projection you will come into contact with a variety of interesting spirits that will give you information or send you in the right direction with clues. Most spirits require you to do some leg work first before they will help you – from finding items like letters or piano scripts, to solving puzzles, once you have helped them (and they have you) the ghosts will move on having found peace.
Scattered in and around the mansion are notes that are lined with an insight into some of the ghostly character’s motives and psyches. There are also a few entries from Flying Hawk, who provides a look into Elena’s ancestors and their victimisation. There are loads of entries to collect, which adds a little background to the story but it is entirely possible to go through the whole game without collecting or reading any of them.
I was expecting a lot from the types of puzzles in Whispering Willows and unfortunately the majority of them were too easy to solve, usually needing Elena’s ghost form to pass through a gap and possess an item to unlock a door or move something around to allow you to progress.
Whispering Willows has a beautiful art style, hand drawn and vibrant in some cases, it sets the tone of where you are in the mansion but I felt the storyboard cutscenes could have received more love. In terms of the soundtrack, it is full of well-timed eerie noises that reside around a mansion that is haunted by its ghostly occupants. The floor creaks and the odd weird sound effect drifts in that will make Elena shudder with fear.
The game is really atmospheric, great to look at and features a unique and fun astral projection mechanic, but I felt it did not use this to its full potential. Puzzles were too easy to solve and didn’t have enough variety to them. The astral projection wasn’t used enough to make me feel satisfied with its inclusion in the game. Completable in a little over two hours, the story also fell short of my expectations and while the collectibles made for an interesting read, I felt that they needed to be more integrated into the storyline – you don’t have to find or read any of them, which left the story full of gaps. If you like collecting stuff as much as I do then I urge you to collect them all, plus doing so will mean that you will enjoy the story to its fullest!
Thanks to Reverb Communications for supplying TiX with a download code
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