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‘World to the West’ is a Journey With Too Many Stops Along the Way

‘World to the West’ contains some enjoyable puzzles and a colorful land to explore, but its character-swapping mechanic ultimately holds it back.

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Getting there is usually half the fun of any trip, but venturing out into the great unknown loses a bit of its excitement when the path to where you’re going requires consistently backtracking over where you’ve been. World to the West asks this of players a bit too much for its Zelda-like aspirations to ultimately work, breaking up the flow of adventure with a multitude of stops and starts along the way. Some are by design, some are due to technical limitations, but all compound to make the experience more tedious than it needed to be. Solving the environmental puzzles in this colorful land is still somewhat enjoyable, however, when getting to them doesn’t feel like two steps forward, one step back.

Things begin well, with a dash of mystery that finds a certain Teslamancer (the story takes place in the same world as the studio’s Teslagrad) transported to unfamiliar territory after meddling with technology during a search for her father. After her power to teleport a short distance is introduced via tutorial-like challenges, World to the West seems revved and ready to take off, letting players get to the meat of exploring a large map filled with secrets, but that is not yet to be. As soon as the player starts to get comfortable with the situation, the momentum is abruptly halted, and the story shifts to a new character with a new angle on things. A young miner, a seasoned explorer, and a bombastic beefcake all get involved in a plot revolving around an enigmatic villain’s aim to rebuild a giant machine that can manipulate the weather. Each overcomes obstacles in their own way, and eventually, they must work together to open up new paths to uncharted territory.

Having multiple heroes to control, each with different abilities to master and different perspectives on the tale is a neat one, and the personalities of each really shine through in the often witty dialogue, giving World to the West some nice charm. However, developer Rain Games never finds the proper pacing to allow the gameplay to settle in as they jump back and forth between narratives, and though the heroes do eventually converge, there’s a lot of stuttering in between. The result requires constant relearning of abilities (more than once I was stumped by a situation only to realize I had forgotten movesets due to the long stretch between playing the same character), and though there is a menu reserved for just such a purpose, it still takes one out of the flow.

This wouldn’t stand out so much if there weren’t so many other little things that World to the West does that produce a similar effect. For instance, the map is segmented much like an old-school Zelda game would be, but each new area is met with a loading screen. Want to enter a cave? Loading screen. A building? Loading screen. Take a wrong turn and want to go back? A loading screen is your punishment for a faulty sense of direction. Though the average ten seconds these take may not sound like much, when you see them hundreds of times it certainly adds up.

The most egregious culprit, however, is the mechanic used to switch between playable characters. Instead of the party traveling together and a button used to quickly swap between them, World to the West asks players to guide one hero alone until they reach a specific post, at which point they can warp back to one of the others and subsequently bring them through the same terrain. Many later puzzles require the unique abilities of all four to be present, so often this process must be repeated over and over in order to finally get everyone to the same spot, making progress seem like the greatest obstacle in the game. It’s as if a co-op feature was to be included, but was ultimately rejected, leaving one player to fulfill four duties. The environments are built around each hero, and they do have slight variations on the paths they take, but mostly it just feels like pointless padding that could easily have been avoided. It’s a decision that at times slows World to the West down to a crawl.

Still, when World to the West lets players get into a groove, Rain Games gets some excellent mileage out of the action-puzzle concept. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but fans of Zelda dungeons will find some delightful variations. The hero powers are utilized with the perfect degree of inventive subtlety, allowing for just the right amount of contemplation on puzzles to provide a sense of accomplishment without getting frustrating. The combat isn’t quite as lucky, and some input lag makes certain boss battles try one’s patience, but for the most part it’s fairly forgiving, and occasionally even satisfying. Side stories are light and fluffy, exhibiting a quirky sense of humor that makes encounters with NPCs something to look forward to. The visuals reinforce that atmosphere with a simple, cartoonish look that likely won’t impress anyone, but is nevertheless appealing.

By the end of the 10-15 hour adventure, it’s hard not to think that a more lean, focused, and exciting journey could have been taken in World to the West, if it consistently didn’t erect its own roadblocks. Patient adventurers will uncover a land of pleasant diversions, but those with their eyes always on the horizon may not appreciate being reined in.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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