Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC (early 2020)
I loved playing Weakless. The game, from Punk Notion and Cubeish Games, has a lot of things that I feel can appeal to different players. It's set in a beautiful world. The music is a mix of cutesy and charming. The puzzles are, for the most part, highly enjoyable. The game touches on themes of disabilities in an interesting way. And it's a mostly relaxing game, perfect for sitting back on your couch and just taking in. There's a lot to love about Weakless, and it does most of it quite well, but it is pretty rough in some spots.
The Beauty of Ambiguity
There's no dialogue in Weakless, and the storytelling is minimalistic. You play as two Weavelings, Deaf One and Blind One. These tree people are in tune with the earth around them and can manipulate it in specific ways. Their world is rotting away, and the two Weavelings take it upon themselves to find the source of the rot and hopefully save their land. The two characters' back stories are kept a mystery, but it's apparent that they're friends. This makes Weakless as much a story about companionship as it is about defying odds for the greater good.
Just like you're left to put the pieces together regarding the two protagonists (if you so choose), the game's world is also shrouded in mystery. To me, Weakless almost felt like a Legend of Zelda side story — from the main characters to the plant world, I was reminded of the Korok tribe in Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild. I know this isn't a Zelda game, but in some weird, alternate universe, I feel like it could totally be a Korok spin-off, origin story, or alternate history.
You progress by solving various puzzles. Each character has strengths and weaknesses, so you'll need to use both to figure your way around the land. The Deaf One has the ability to release spores that will give life to decaying plant life that's blocking your path, in the process allowing those plants to sprout upward and unlock blocked areas. Deaf can also use the spores to make lily pads increase in size, allowing the duo to safely cross bodies of water. The more spry of the two main characters, Deaf can climb walls to reach higher platforms and puzzles.
Given that Deaf has the ability to see, you can take in the entire world in all its visual splendor, but sound is muffled. This means you'll be able to see the gorgeous environments, but you won't be able to hear the great music very clearly.
The Blind One, on the other hand, can hear with no issues, so this character's puzzles are more sound-based. You use Blind's staff to tap on gongs in specific patterns to raise bridges, lower walls, and open doors. The larger and stronger of the two, Blind can also push blocks to open passageways or create paths by dropping the blocks into small pits.
Playing as Blind, the entire world is in black and white, and your field of vision is very limited, with the only visible things being those which are directly in front of you. The world is also blurry and shaky. On the flip-side, you'll be able to hear music and sound effects clearly when controlling Blind. The music and sounds are pretty great, and playing as Blind allows you to really enjoy the sound design of Weakless.
Despite the fact that there are perks and limitations to playing as either character, the game seems centered more on playing as Deaf. Blind moves a lot slower, making progression much smoother as Deaf. In addition, while I really enjoyed the music in the game, the visuals were such a treat that I couldn't imagine playing the game in black and white the majority of the time.
Smaller puzzles are solved by one character or the other, but there are a few larger puzzles, especially later in the game, that requite the two to work together. It's kind of a shame that Blind has less to do, because it often feels like this character is more of a sidekick, despite the premise revolving around each Weaveling using specific abilities to help one another out.
The majority of the game's puzzles are simple with small twists and turns to provide a decent challenge. With the exception of a couple instances, I never found myself too confused by the puzzles. That said, there are some that seem like forgotten brain teasers from the early 2010s. These are the least enjoyable, and though they're not frequent, these more dated challenges can cause a break in the otherwise smooth progression of Weakless.
There were moments when I wished I could play the game with a friend. Weakless at times seems perfect for couch co-op, especially when the puzzles require both characters' abilities. It's a shame the game doesn't allow for two players to enjoy its world and puzzles together, and it almost seems like a missed opportunity at times.
A Part of Nature
While solving puzzles is a major component, there are times when the game takes cues from walking sims. You'll go lengthy stretches where there are no challenges to overcome. You simply walk through the land. I really appreciated these moments because they provided a bit of respite from the otherwise puzzle-y design. I like that the game presents the opportunity to really take in and appreciate its world. Weakless is about both its characters and its world, so it's great that the game lets players enjoy walking through that world.
There's also a little extra to do if you like to go off the beaten path. Deaf carries a sketchbook with him, and there are designated hidden areas where you can behold incredible views that unlock drawings in the sketchbook. Seeing Deaf quickly pull out the sketchbook and scribble away for a few seconds on it while moving is a neat little bit of attention to detail. There are also hidden instruments for Blind to discover, which he'll sit down and play. These are minor additions that are quirky and fun, and they're there for you if you're a completionist.
As enjoyable as it is experiencing the sights and sounds of Weakless, some of the paths can wrap around or look very similar to places you've already visited, which can be a cause for confusion. You might accidentally backtrack or revisit an area without wanting to, or you may think you're doing so when you're not. Given how great the world is, the last thing you want is to feel confused or frustrated.
The controls and character animations are a problem at times. Neither character moves smoothly, and it's possible to get stuck in surrounding architecture and plant life. There's no jump button, so if a character gets stuck on a platform or step, you won't be able to jump out. This happened to me a few times, and I was left with no choice but to load my last checkpoint. The game saves frequently, so there wasn't an issue of having to do the same things over again, but it was still a hassle.
While not a technical marvel, Weakless manages to be a visual masterpiece thanks in large part to its artful direction. Forests are lush and filled with life. Wetlands are equal parts ominous and inviting. Structures with moving parts genuinely look like something from a lost civilization. The game does experience some pretty bad frame rate issues toward the end, but it's nothing game-breaking.
The music is also great, even when you're playing as Deaf and can't hear it too clearly. Though I mostly played as Deaf, there were times when I would switch over to Blind just to enjoy the soothing music and sound effects for a few moments.
Slightly wonky character animations, physics-based issues, and a few bad puzzles notwithstanding, I greatly enjoyed my time with Weakless. For all its issues, the game also provides a largely wholesome and worthwhile adventure that blends puzzle-solving with walking simulator mechanics practically seamlessly. I reached the end in roughly two hours, though your time will vary depending on your approach to puzzles and whether you go for all the sketches and instruments.
Weakless is one of those games that I probably won't revisit, but I'm certainly glad I played it. The protagonists, the atmosphere, and the environments are all spectacular. The puzzles are mostly good, and traveling from forests to ancient cities is an absolute wonder. It's far from perfect, and at times it feels stuck in the early 2010s, but there's a charm to the style and design of Weakless that makes it a joyful little romp through a magical fantasy land.