After a sea voyaging expedition gone awry, Kara has found herself separated from her family, stranded on an uncharted island and forced to live off the land. Scavenge, hunt and craft your way in order to brave the stormy seas and uncover the secrets of the Forbidden Islands. Looking to scratch that castaway survival itch that many have been craving, Windbound may well be that game many have been waiting for.
Kara is a fierce warrior who is well versed in survival combat. It’s very satisfying to upgrade your weapons from a stick into something that can take down a ferocious beast. Windbound provides the satisfaction that comes with enjoying the fruits of your labour, seeing your inventory expand and your ship made out of grass and rope become a sea-faring vessel that battles the wildest of storms.
As Windbound is all about gathering resources to upgrade your arsenal, inventory management can quickly become a headache. There always seems to be a lot more items than there are free inventory slots and even when you upgrade your bags and build baskets and bag holders to put onto your ship, it never seems like enough. This then subsequently makes crafting difficult as I spent a lot of time dropping items to make space, getting items out of a basket, crafting my desired item and then finding space in my basket and bags in order to not leave anything behind. Preparation is key to survival as you want to ensure that you have a good melee and ranged weapon that aren’t close to breaking, a healthy amount of food that aren’t close to spoiling and enough space in your inventory for when you find more materials.
The most concerning aspect of my time with Windbound was its technical issues. Keeping in mind I was playing a pre-release version, the game crashed on me several times; the screen went a blank white at times when I put the screen onto standby and came back an hour later; my save file was lost three quarters into the game when I suspended the software after I had died and in-game, I saw a few monsters glitching inside of rocks and trees. Whilst discussing this with the game’s publisher, Koch Media, they did assure me that the developer, 5 Lives Studios, are aware of these issues and are actively looking to provide patch updates. It’s tricky as these experiences certainly soured my view of the game however if these issues are resolved by the time you as the consumer are looking to buy Windbound, then you’re in for a great time; it just may require a little research on your behalf beforehand.
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Throughout each chapter, you are thrown into a new world to explore. Upon opening the map, the world is a circle with a black haze that clears the more you explore (similar to classic RTS games, if you are familiar). Upon each chapter, the circle grows larger to compensate for your upgraded ship, however they are each very similar until you land on an island. This made traversing the open seas exciting at first however as the variety lessened, so too did the excitement. The waves get rougher and the rock hazards become more plentiful for added challenge, but the landscape is certainly quite repetitive.
Story / Personality
Windbound‘s plot doesn’t take centre stage for the majority of the game, rather it acts as an avenue to set the scene and provide a sense of progression. A lot of the game simply involves sailing from island-to-island, activating three shrines in order to access another that transports Kara into a realm that reveals more of the Forbidden Islands’ past and future in the form of a five-piece mural. It certainly feels lacklustre in terms of its progression and it can also become quite repetitive but rest assured that the game does a great job at enticing the player’s curiosity.
Graphics / Art Direction
Considering Windbound‘s vast oceans and detailed landscapes, it greatly benefits from its colourful cartoon textures. Granted, it still maintains a touch of realism in its aesthetic with detailed environments and inhabitants, but its animated shader helps Windbound from becoming a muddy experience to look at. This seems to be a common choice for open world, sea-faring games, taking inspiration from obvious examples such as Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Rare’s Sea of Thieves rather than adopting a much more taxing approach with Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
Music / Sound Design
The game’s sound design takes a minimalist approach, choosing to focus on the surroundings and inhabitants in order to heighten the immersion. You’ll get various cues when on land, such as engaging in combat and walking up to a key objective, and the wonderful piano score that plays when sailing the open seas is there to break up the silent monotony. It all blends in well to compliment the feeling of isolated survival that its gameplay is all about.
Final Score: 84%
Windbound is the best castaway game to grace the Nintendo Switch. While I can’t help but be disappointed by its rough edges and technical hiccups, the assurance that these planned to be ironed out in future updates tells me that this game is going to be something very special. Being able to craft your own vessel to survive what each Island throws at you is quite possibly the most satisfying gaming experience I’ve felt in a long time and if it weren’t for a few missteps, Windbound could well have been a masterpiece for the ages.
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