Sigrid and her granny live in Strandville, a city that once thrived with vegetation but is now a flooded plain with a few habitable islands. It’s their job to keep the lighthouse running, which is the only thing capable of keeping back the infamous Dirty Paws. The Dirty Paws were the ones who flooded the city so it is imperitive that Sigrid keeps them at bay with the lighthouse. To do this, Sigrid must keep the lighthouse powered up with electricity, which she must find scattered around the archipelago.
It’s unclear who (or what) the Dirty Paws are but it’s assumed they’re a race capable of corrupting sea beasts and infecting the land with black gunk because Strandville is soon attacked by a corrupt sea beast and black gunk! Sigrid is rescued by a water imp, who gifts her with incredible powers. Sigrid can now walk on water and surf barefoot through the ocean like a hot knife cuts through butter. With her new gifts, Sigrid must reestablish power to all the islands, clean up all the black gunk, and ultimately find a way to defeat the Dirty Paws once and for all.
Wavetale is beautifully cel-shaded without looking like anime, much in the same way Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is. The art style is similar to Pendleton Ward’s (Adventure Time/The Midnight Gospel) which helps ground the whimsical world it’s set in. The characters’ faces are 2D animations projected onto 3D rigs, and although it is intentionally cartoonish it often results in ugly facial expressions that quiver uncontrollably. Apart from that though, the graphical design lends itself to the stylistic representation of the water, which is some of the best-looking water you will ever see in a game. So much attention has been invested in what the water looks like and how it behaves, and for good reason too. Water and fire are notoriously difficult to simulate and because Sigrid spends much of her time skipping across the open sea it’s imperative that Thunderful Games gets it right. It comes at a cost though (on Xbox at least), as the reflections of the buildings will often be absent as you approach them, only for them to pop up spontaneously a little too late.
Because of how much attention to detail has been committed to the sea, surfing has never felt so good. Gliding across the surface feels fluid and frictionless, and it will fill you with a sense of awe that can only be found in Superhero films. Sigrid’s speed can be combined with boost points that slingshot her through the air, invoking a sensation of nautical parkour. The only thing missing is the chance to pull off acrobatic manoeuvres like Spider-Man or Tony Hawk. The long stretches of surfing between zones are made less tedious with Sigrid narrating the journey, which is a brilliant way to fill the time. It’s an insight into Siggy’s mind and helps flesh out her character, which isn’t something easily achieved during the fetch quests.
The action on land is disappointing and feels like it’s been overlooked. You have a basic attack and a downward attack that’s very useful when airborne but the combat doesn’t have the same polish that the surfing has. Simply put, being on dry land isn’t as cool or as fun to be on, which is a problem when most of the actual gameplay takes place on the islands.
There are some nice touches, like how Siggy is extremely mobile. She has a jump, a double-jump, a dash/dodge, and she can also use her net as a propeller. All of these moves can be combined to cover great distances, which makes her feel like a superhero against the backdrop of the tiny islands. Sigrid also ‘snaps’ to platforms, so even when she looks like she’s about to clumsily slip off, more times than not she will ‘magnetise’ to a surface. This is quite difficult to adjust to at the start because you will want to course-correct her landing but you will eventually realise how forgiving Wavetale is and let the game do the work.
Speaking of which, Wavetale isn’t a punishing experience and is pretty chill. Enemies don’t dish out a great deal of damage and Siggy quickly recovers her health after running away. You might die a few times when first starting out but the final boss landed so many hits and Siggy didn’t die once, it’s almost as if Thunderful Games don’t want you to lose. Fighting is the least challenging aspect of Wavetale, so the difficulty rests solely in puzzle-solving and traversing great heights with Sigrid’s net – chaining together launch points and finishing the optional racing sidequests are as hard as it gets.
There are a few improvements that can be made. The map, for example, is barely useable so don’t feel bad for not using it at all – it doesn’t provide you with any information besides which way Siggy is facing. Zooming in is completely pointless as it won’t let you get a better lay of the land or a closer look at the tiny islands.
The size of the world is hugely underwhelming too. It’s hard to believe anyone lives on the tiny islands because most (if not all) of them have nothing on them but a single building with practically nothing in them, other than what’s in service of the puzzles. If you were to combine all the islands you would probably end up with a small shopping mall. Strandville is supposed to be the echo of a prosperous city and there’s really nothing to show for it.
Other than that there’s very little to knick-pick at. Wavetale is fun, fast and lovely to look at.
Should you play it? Yes
Why… Overall, Wavetale is a great platformer that shouldn’t be ignored by lovers of the genre. There’s more to the world than meets the eye so a sequel is very much welcome. With optional sidequests and races to finish, Siggy is able to unlock cash to spend on collectables, allowing you to craft your own Sigrid. Surfing is an absolute joy, and you will find yourself taking to the open sea for the pure fun of it.
But… Unfortunately, Wavetale is dwarfed by the small cast and the tiny environment, so the game definitely feels cramped and implausible. Although the general plot is quite good, the final act shies away from the world’s politics and childishly washes over moral ambiguity by avoiding any negative repercussions.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X/S
Developer: Thunderful Games
Publisher: Thunderful Games
Playable on: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
Released: 12th December, 2022