‘Twas the night of a haunting, with a girl on a jog, not a creature was stirring, except for a frog. Well, there were a few other mysterious guests too. Whispering Willows is the adventure of a girl named Elena, and her journey to find her father. Inspired by a real ghost story, the protagonist is left to explore the haunted locale to discover more about its happenings and herself. Is the journey worth it?
Here’s what I liked:
Art design — Whispering Willows‘ visuals are colorful and vibrant, which seems odd for a tale about ghosts and spirits. I’m rather thankful for this unexpected choice of style, as it helps to portray the game as not being overly seriously. If anything, it reminds me more of a Saturday morning cartoon, like Scooby Doo, only here it’s Elena searching for clues to find her missing father. The art design is detailed throughout the entire game, often including small areas that almost never get noticed. My only minor gripe is that some doors into new areas look rather cheap.
Dedicated story — The plot of Whispering Willows is well thought out. The basic premise doesn’t change throughout the story, but along the way, the main character discovers more about her roots and origins as well as finds out the gruesome details that unfolded in the Wortham mansion. Along the way, players can find an overwhelming amount of notes that are thankfully optional to help fill in even more game lore details. A spiritual journey is waiting for those who wish to partake in it.
Fairly simple — Puzzles are a common inclusion in adventure games; many genre titles are often riddled with challenging brain teasers to impede progress. Sometimes, simple tasks yield the best results. Here, though, there is only one solution to progress forward through the game. Occasionally, a few different opportunities may sprout from one puzzle piece, but those alternatives typically lead to Whispering Willows‘ miscellaneous Achievements. It’s not a perfect system; I’ll go into more details below.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
If at first you don’t succeed — Good luck. While each puzzle ties into the next one well, if you don’t happen to remember what you just did, the game does a poor job of reminding you. It does have an inventory system that you never have to visit, and it does have notes that highlight specific words to hint what the upcoming task is, but this usually still isn’t enough to guide you in the right direction. For instance, I once found a knife in the mansion’s kitchen. After at first having no idea what to do with said object, I remembered there was a spot in the garden maze that needed something sharp to bypass it. After repeatedly getting lost in the garden maze, I finally reached my destination, only to find out it was a dead end. I had no bearings as to what the next objective was. I was lucky enough to have a viewer of my Twitch stream tip me off that the observatory had vines that were blocking a door. It wasn’t something I would have checked right away.
One door, two door, three door, floor — There are far too many doors in Whispering Willows. I get that different areas are needed to display everything the game has to offer, but some of these doors are just rectangular silhouettes that were placed there as a zone to enter. Many of the doors in the game are very unremarkable, and as a result, players may backtrack into areas repeatedly and unnecessarily, even if they are aware of where they want to go. The garden maze is the biggest offender of this; each room has an average of three doors, and went several layers deep. Without any significant landmarks or in-game map, it’s way too easy to get lost. I found the objectives easily, but finding the way out was a pain. Hassling the player isn’t a proper challenge.
Elena is a polite girl — Whispering Willows offers a run button, but it only works outdoors, and the majority of the game takes place indoors. As an added bonus, most of the ghosts and creepy creatures are indoors. If I was the main character, I’d probably be running around everywhere, preferably out of the mansion.
Very short — It takes about two to fours hours to finish Whispering Willows. There is no chapter select, and very little reason to play the story a second time.
Whispering Willows is a good adventure with an entertaining story. It’s also a little rough around the edges and doesn’t do anything special to separate itself from other games in this genre. If that doesn’t put you off, Whispering Willows is worth giving a look.
Score: Try It
Achievement notes: This is yet another short and easy 1,000 Gamerscore added to the ID@Xbox library. There are a few missable Achievements in a playthrough, but an astute attention to detail or a guide will help answer any questions.
Whispering Willows was developed by NightLight Interactive and published by Abstraction Games on Xbox One. It releases on August 27, 2015 for $9.99. A copy was provided by NightLight for review purposes.