Graphics:
7.5
Gameplay:
6.0
Sound:
6.7
Control:
7.0
Replay Value:
5.3
Overall Rating:
6.6
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
Night Light Interactive
Developer:
Night Light Interactive
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
Adventure
Release Date:
June 30, 2015


In a world where many small, independent developers can make big splashes, it’s important to remember one thing: Even if you have, comparatively speaking, a tiny team and budget, you still have to produce a complete, engaging product. Great ideas only go so far. Concepts, once birthed, must be brought to fruition; interactive nirvana can only be attained if the designers fulfill their original vision. Unfortunately, while the indie boom has allowed us to sample a huge variety of gameplay and styles, it remains true that new teams very often require more seasoning. That’s the case with Night Light Interactive; their Whispering Willows project is quaintly captivating but still feels incomplete. In brief, a missed opportunity.

Sprites are making a triumphant return these days, and they’re not the sprites of the 8-bit days. No, these are often beautifully drawn, wonderfully animated characters that somehow manage to straddle the line between cartoon-y and sophisticated. Here, we get an imaginative, atmospheric display that sets the tone nicely, even if a few of the animations aren’t quite up to snuff. I found a few of the areas to be a tad too dark (even though I know that’s a central theme for such a game) but otherwise, these 2D visuals are really quite pleasant. Gone are the days of comical jaggies and big, blocky dudes and dudettes clumping around the screen; there’s a smoothness to these “old-fashioned” visual presentations that I appreciate.

The sound plays into the subtleness of the graphics due to a haunting, melodic soundtrack and quality effects. It helps to have a decent headset, too, because when playing, you definitely want to feel immersed in this mystical, often ethereal setting. In some ways, though, I think the audio was a missed opportunity to implement more sentiment and emotion. A game like this benefits greatly from a gorgeous score and various ambient effects that cement you in the experience. And although both elements in question are decent in Whispering Willows , it’s clear that the team could’ve used a bit more help in this department. Just a little something extra that perks up our ears as we explore this intriguing set.

A young girl named Elena doesn’t listen to her mother – as children are wont to do – and she runs off to the Willows Mansion. Her father is the groundskeeper there but Elena has had a terrible premonition that something dire will happen. Unsurprisingly, when Elena shows up, it turns out she’s a prophet: The Mansion is in a shambles and ghosts haunt the beleaguered grounds. However, these ghosts aren’t necessarily enemies; one, called the Flying Hawk, teaches Elena how to leave her body behind and float about in her spirit form. Obviously, the player expects to utilize this skill quite often as Elena sets out to discover the mystery behind Willows Mansion’s demise. She also needs to find out what happened to her father. Does he still live?

The game plays like a mostly standard 2D side-scroller, with the added twist of using doors in the background and foreground. These lead to different sections in the current location and I was immediately nostalgic for those doors in the old-school Mario games. Anyway, Elena’s spirit form can overcome certain obstacles, such as floors no human should touch. She can also reach switches her body wouldn’t be able to reach, and she even has the power to manipulate and possess particular objects. Also when in this spirit form, she can commune with other spirits. In speaking to the ghosts hovering about the grounds, she can learn more about her surroundings.