It was a while back I stumbled across a trailer for Windbound and was immediately pulled in to its beautifully drawn, and realised world. Let’s overlook the strong nod to Moana in its seafaring setting and logo for a moment, and focus on a setting that threw me back to the adventures of Link crossing the oceans in Wind Waker.
I was initially expecting an adventure along the lines of Nintendo’s finest, but Windbound is a very different animal indeed. Lost to the elements, lost to her family, Kara, our hero, finds herself lost at sea only to awaken washed up on a beach, on an island, with nothing but her wits to keep going. It’s from here the game unfolds and very quickly you find your mind getting set on resource management mode, and more importantly survival.
The island has resources, resources that can be used to craft the tools necessary for you to survive; a rudimentary sling, a spear, a knife, all will help harvest what you need to get you started. There’s rocks, grass, animals, some of which you find can be deadly very early on in the game (gorehorn I’m looking at you in particular), and more each of which open up more paths of the crafting menu to allow you to build a boat, or make a fire, or create slings. It’s survival game 101 here.
Crafting your boat is when the game starts to open up. Each area has three keys needed to open up a portal that allows Kara to traverse through to the next stage on her journey, and you would think this is where Windbound would come into its own; wind at your back, aim for an island, away you go. While each island has its own limited set of resources, flora, and fauna to harvest and craft, it can sometimes be quite a chore to get there over the sea. What should have been an exhilarating ride across the endless blue can at times see you fighting to direct your boat the way you want it to thanks to the wind direction. It starts to vex rather quickly, more so if you happen to mis-steer into a reef or worse. Your craft tends to be rather brittle and gets destroyed a little too easily for my liking. Granted, it returns as resources and you can build it again, but it could do with being a little more robust.
Finding a new island, exploring, and should also be a joy and an adventure too, but sadly the survival element, even on the easier storyteller can prove to be rather challenging, especially if survival games are not your forté. I often found myself stuck on an island harvesting, and re-harvesting resources to craft weapons or tools to see me through. to the point it detracted from the story and focus.
Fighting, running, swimming, and dodging all deplete your stamina, and finding the necessary food to get you back on track again can prove to be a challenge. Beyond this, biting off more than you can chew, if you make the mistake of thinking you can handle an animal that surprises you, throws you right back to the start of the level (worse on Survivalist mode where permadeath is a very real and very painful thing). It can prove infuriating and a little disheartening.
The thing that upsets me the most about Windbound is that there’s the basis for a great exploration/survival game rooted behind a classic rite of passage story. Thanks to the beauty of the game, the world Kara is in, and Kara herself (who I would have loved to be voiced and given more of a personality), there was great potential here to engage us in the Windbound mythos, but sadly it all gets lost at sea, hungry, and in need of saving.
+ Beautiful setting
+ Creative creature designs and environments
+ Crafting is very easily done
– Survival elements can feel unfair
– Handling the boat at sea gets frustrating
– Resource hunting gets tedious
Rating – 5/10