Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), Wii U, PC
There's something about an involving adventure that draws you in, something that takes a unique approach when it comes to telling its story, as well as how you eventually resolve it. When it begins, Loot Interactive's Whispering Willows is kind of like this, as you switch between apparition and human form while trying to solve a mystery involving the disappearance of your character’s father.
But starting an intriguing story doesn't do much if it doesn't keep you involved, and that's where Willows falters. The game almost feels like a cakewalk instead of challenging the player, and there's pacing issues galore, especially when it comes to backtracking on certain missions with slow movement. If you can overlook these faults, however, you might be interested in what this game has to offer.
The Trials of Elena
The game puts you in the ghostly feet of Elena Elkhorn, a girl visiting Willow's Estate, where her father managed the grounds. It's here that she begins looking for clues, only to become trapped in a hole in the yard, where she'll need to dig around to find her way out – and maybe learn a thing or two about her elder's disappearance.
It's a good set-up, and it introduced interesting gameplay mechanics where you explore the grounds and can transform between ghost and human forms to get around, whether it's passing through small cracks to access otherwise unreachable areas or transforming into a hawk to chat with surrounding spirits, in order to get new clues.
Again, the execution leaves a little something to be desired. The puzzles in Whispering Willows are practically resolved for you with too-easy-to-spot clues, and that takes away any sort of challenge that could've been offered. On top of that, your character moves as slow as molasses, and that means it takes a little while longer to get around – which can drag the mystery down even further.
It's not a bad-playing game, just one that could've used better balancing between giving out clues and making Elena a bit faster. Actually, a lot.
A Haunting Appearance, In a Good Way
Despite problems with certain aspects of the gameplay, Loot Interactive has done pretty well with the game's presentation. Whispering Willows features an exquisite 2D set-up, one where you can explore the entirety of the grounds with cool little ghostly effects. The transformation abilities look very cool, and the glow that surrounds certain characters has a unique effect.
On top of that, the music and sound effects are also noteworthy. The soundtrack has a certain haunting quality to it, especially at the beginning when Elena realizes her plight after falling in the hole. The sound effects are good as well, enough to send chills down your spine, even if the characters you're speaking with come across as approachable. It's a good kind of scary, never to the point of overkill. It's toned just about right.
Plus, even with the uphill struggle to get through the story, it's done quite well, though you'll be done with it in a few hours, with not much to come back to in terms of replay value. That does work against the game in terms of longevity, but fans of ghost stories probably won't mind adding this to their library.