The Whispered World, from Daedalic Entertainment, is a classic-style 2D adventure game reminiscent of some of my favorite titles from years ago. Old-school gamers like myself can certainly remember the whimsically-painted backdrops, the often-witty dialogue, and the plethora of clever (and sometimes crushingly agonizing) puzzles. Perhaps I'm looking through the rose-colored lens of nostalgia, but The Whispered World managed to strike a certain chord that pulled me in and kept me enrapt for the entire journey. Only a few minor quibbles, mostly due to an imperfect translation to English, keep this title from being a retro-classic.
Players take on the role of Sadwick, a young clown who clearly has the wrong calling. Tinged with a touch of sadness that weaves through the entire game, Sadwick clearly has yet to find his purpose in life. As the story begins to unfold, Sadwick learns that his horrible dreams are really portents of things to come, and he (reluctantly) sets off to try to save his doomed world. Accompanying Sadwick is his loving pet, Spot. This happy-go-lucky little shape-shifting caterpillar thing is one of the highlights of the game. Not only is Spot a tried-and-true companion, he's also a Swiss Army knife of puzzle solving goodness. One Spot-centric sequence, late in the game, delightfully highlighted his value and abilities.
Like all adventure games, The Whispered World mostly consists of raiding every nook and cranny for any useful item, and subsequently utilizing those items in off-the-wall ways. Very few door can simply be opened with the turn of a knob. More often, it requires a lengthy conversation with a rock, a clever use of spoon, or something equally absurd. And while Sadwick's inventory grows and shrinks from chapter to chapter, he (almost) always has on hand his trusty, physics-defying pet to save the day.
Adventure titles are only as good as their puzzles, and those in The Whispered World are consistently of high quality. Most involve finding the right combinations of items (or Spot) to use in a given situation, but very few of them failed to make at least some semi-logical sense. There were also a few of the traditional mind-bender puzzles to keep things fresh, and several conversation-path conundrums also helped spice things up. For the most part, I never found myself to be overly frustrated at a particular point, but neither did I simply breeze through the entire game. Most of my hang-ups were simply due to me overlooking a particular item in the lushly-drawn background, but soon enough my pixel-hunting instincts returned and I scoured for item hotspots with ease.
Speaking of the backgrounds, the in-game graphics were very well done, painted in a stylish, almost storybook fashion that captured the mood of the game very well. Perhaps a bit cluttered at times, the backgrounds nevertheless did a wonderful job setting the mood. Not quite as good were the characters themselves--I found some of the animations a little disjointed in places. While it was never bad, it did pull me out of the story every once in a while. Also a mixed bag was the audio side of things. A wonderful musical score set a perfect undertone, but some hit-or-miss voicing marred this a bit. My biggest problem was with the main character himself. Sadwick's voice, almost too whiny and moping, takes a bit of effort to overlook. In addition, the voice recordings themselves were uneven at points. In the early game, I swore at times two different actors were voicing Sadwick, often within a given monologue. Perhaps this was due to some translational changes mid-game, perhaps just due to some sampling difficulties, but I found it jarring nonetheless.
While the audio was a bit inconsistent, the story was quite good in a storybook sort of way. I truly wish my German was a bit more polished, as I can imagine the dialogue to be absolutely sparkling in its original tongue. As it stood, the English translation obviously missed the mark on more than one occasion. The dialogue sometimes felt stilted and unnatural, and jokes that had the promise of being hilarious ended up being simply amusing. Still, the overall plot, with its bittersweet elements and surprisingly poignant moments, managed to shine through.
I don't mean to leave off on a negative note--The Whispered World is a truly solid adventure title, and was well worth my time. For fans of the old-school 2D greats, The Whispered World will be a pleasant stroll down that happy path. For those unfortunate souls who missed out on those old gems, here's a chance to discover a genre the previous gaming generation had taken for granted