Wandersong Redefines What It Means to Be a Video Game Hero Through the Power of Song

No other game has filled me with as many warm, fuzzy feelings this year as Wandersong.

Seeing as I've played lots of joyous games this year, that's saying a lot. While I first got to play an early build of the game back in February of last year, it's finally out now. Developer Greg Lobanov was kind enough to send me a code to check out the game early on the Nintendo Switch, and it was even better than what I'd played before.

In Wandersong, you take control of a cheery bard. As the game opens, he acquires a ginormous sword. It immediately becomes clear that the sword is way too big for him to handle. Though the game prompts you to swing the sword with the Switch's right analog stick, he can barely lift it.

That's when a giant figure with long, flowing hair appears. When you try to strike her with the sword, it goes flying out of your hands and disappears. All seems hopeless—until you try that analog stick again. This time, that motion causes the bard to sing. As he does, the monster shrinks down to a tiny size into a floating figure.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

She reveals that she's a messenger of the goddess Eya, and that she was testing the bard to find out if he was a hero. She decides he isn't (though she thinks he's super cute). And the world is going to need a hero, because Eya has plans to sing a song that will destroy the universe as they know it and replace it with a new one.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

But even if the bard can't swing a sword, there might still be a way for him to help. There's a special song, called the Earthsong, which, if performed correctly, may have the power to stop the end of the world. Unfortunately, the Earthsong consists of seven different pieces, each guarded by a mighty being called on Overseer, and the bard will only be able to perform it if he travels to each one in its own spirit realm and convinces them to impart their songs upon him. Even then, it requires all life on earth to be in harmony or it will fail.

However daunting this task may be, the bard is up for it. What he lacks in strength, he more than makes up for with his optimism and determination. Plus, he never turns down someone in need—often to the chagrin of those who join him on his journey.

It helps that the bard isn't shy about singing his heart out wherever he goes. Even when everyone else thinks his skills will be useless, he continues to believe in himself. Maybe it's that believe that makes his voice such an effective problem-solving tool.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

Though there's a bit of platforming to Wandersong, every core action revolves around the bard's singing. Sometimes that's because you're actually performing a gripping concert on a stage, but most of the time, you're simply interacting with the world around you. Your voice can make plants grow toward the sky, steer a pirate ship or control a fly through the sky on the back of an antennaed whale creature.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

In fact, singing is your primary means of doing absolutely everything. As the game progresses, it continues to use the melody wheel in new and innovative ways all the way to game's rousing conclusion.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

But one of the things I love most about Wandersong is that your voice is never a weapon. When a town is haunted by frightening ghosts, you use your voice to soothe their souls, not to banish them forever. Even when boss fights arise, it's always used to protect or assist others, and not to harm anyone directly.

In fact, when the game briefly took me away from playing as the bard and endowed me with incredible fighting abilities, I counted the moments until I could get back to my old singing self. I feel like this was totally intentional. Who wants to be a jerk with a sword when you can just sing to make the world better?

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

And the bard is far from the only great character in Wandersong. It's full of colorful personalities, from regular people and ghosts to giant animal deities. I think most people will relate to the grumpy and sardonic witch, Miriam. She can be rude, but she isn't a bad person, and her attitude masks insecurity and the desire to be better. I identify with her, but strive to be more like the bard, who handles every situation with a positive outlook and the belief that things can improve.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

Along the way you'll also encounter a crew of over-caffeinated pirates, a sleepy factory town full of aspiring revolutionaries and a mystical town of witches. With your voice, you can even master basic magic spells to scale walls and walk straight through barriers. After all, magic is simply an advanced form of music.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

But he faces adversity along the way, too. Halfway through the story, he discovers that the journey he's on isn't exactly what he thought. He's crushed by a lie, and his melodies become desaturated, with his voice becoming a mere whimper compared to his other triumphant singing.

Still, he never lets that keep him down for too long. There is definitely more to his emotions than he lets on, but no matter how much badness surrounds him, he continues to handle every situation with kindness. Even when he's down and out, he finds a way to lift himself out of feeling hopeless—and he does it by helping people. When others doubt him, he always tries anyway, and he champions everyone, no matter how small their voice. The smallest acts, like refusing to stomp on cave bugs, pave the way for his success.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

Overall, Wandersong is a heartwarming, dreamy game based around an innovative musical mechanic that never gets old. It throws away a lot of video gaming conventions to create an experience I wish I could have for the first time again and again. The bard may not fit your idea of a hero, but that doesn't mean he isn't one.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

It's not a massive game. but the adventure feels epic and expansive. The intention to detail is magnificent, with the characters feeling very real (despite their cartoony appearance), and the game never passed up an opportunity to make the player smile. When characters hug, it's almost as good as the real thing, and if you don't want to walk from place to place, you always have the option to do a silly dance there instead with the simple press of a button.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

And don't you dare play this game with the sound off, because the music and sound design are gorgeous. The tracks are powerfully moving and every element of the sound design adds to the charm of Wandersong's world. I also recommend playing with headphones in to hear every musical cue hidden in this delightful game.

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(Wandersong via Greg Lobanov)

I anticipate that future games will utilize the game's melody wheel mechanic in brand new ways, too. I'love to see a sequel to Breath of the Wild featuring something similar with the ocarina—or even a game where an Ocarina is links only tool for navigating Hyrule.

I've never played a feel-good adventure game that felt so wholesome and inspiring. I won't spoil the uplifting end of the game, but it just might bring a tear to your eye. It feels full of warmth and goodness without ever feeling cynical. You don't often see this kind of honesty in games, and it feels really good.

It's available now on Nintendo Switch and Steam for $19.99.

 

If Wandersong sounds like your cup of tea, click HERE to read our interview with Em Halberstadt, who did the sound design for the game.