Whispering Willows is a puzzle adventure title originally released for PC in 2014, with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions coming out in 2015. Recently, it was released on the Nintendo Switch, and we took that opportunity to take a look:
Title: Whispering Willows
Developer: Nightlight Interactive
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Interface: Standard Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
In Whispering Willows, you play as Elena Elkhorn, whose father has gone missing after being last seen at the Willows mansion. As Elena, you must solve puzzles and communicate with the dead so that she can find her missing father.
The story itself is nothing particularly fascinating, and involves the slaughtering of a Native American tribe, of which Elena is a descendant of, and ghosts waiting for someone to help them make their peace to move on to the afterlife. Most of the time you just hear what the ghosts have to say, find the item(s) you need, unlock new areas for more information, and eventually go back to a ghost once you have what’s needed. This pattern is fine, but gets VERY repetitive, even to the point of boredom. On top of this, much of the narrative information of what happened at the mansion is found through collectible notes which aren’t even necessary to pick up, so it doesn’t even matter if you choose to ignore the somewhat engaging narrative..
The main ability Elena has is an amulet which allows her to leave her body and use her spirit form to get through small spaces in order to open doors, possess and move objects, and gain items she wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. This spirit form is also what allows her to communicate with the ghosts roaming around the mansion, several of which you have to help in order to progress. This mechanic is what had me interested in the game in the first place, but unfortunately none of the puzzles do anything particularly unique or innovative with it. In addition to spirit form, there’s also a ring which allows you to see hidden messages on walls (while in spirit form), but it’s barely even needed, which makes its inclusion feel irrelevant.
Whispering Willows also features a lot of backtracking, but this feels like it was just used to extend play time, rather than make you feel like you’re making new progress. The game doesn’t do enough to make you curious about what’s behind each locked entrance, which makes going back and forth more of a chore that an exciting visit to a place you’ve seen before. Eventually, you just want to progress and finish the chapter just so you can do something different, even if it’s only slightly different
As you unlock different rooms, solve puzzles, and help ghosts, there are a few enemies encountered along the way, ranging from dark spirits, to creepy arachnids, disturbing hands, and plant spirits. There’s no way to fight against these enemies, so the only things you can do are run or block their path if possible, otherwise they kill you, which puts you back to where you were just moments before. While this does give the gameplay a bit more tension, it doesn’t happen very often. Another drawback about this is that you can only run in certain situations, meaning only when outdoors or during specific encounters (only one of which comes to mind). If you try to run indoors, Elena will look at you and disapprovingly shake her head, refusing to do so.
Something I noticed is that the controls are odd, even for a game where the directional buttons are primarily used. The plus button is pause like usual, but the B button is also pause. It’s a more just a major nitpick, but having it this way just felt odd to me.
A new feature for the Nintendo Switch version is HD Rumble, which cause the Joy-Cons to vibrate whenever the amulet glows and Elena is near a ghost on an enemy. This is useful for players who might not notice the amulet glowing and helps prevent them from running right past a ghost they may need to communicate with to progress.
The art for the game itself looks quite nice, however I was struck by the fact that the art used for the cutscenes seem like something you might see in a shovelware game for the Wii, and the lack of quality is still notable (the image shown above is actually one of the better ones, if not the best in the entire game). The music in the game is engaging enough, but with how brief an experience the game is, there isn’t much of it. It’s safe to say that even though there are much worse examples out there, Whispering Willows comes up short in both the visual and audio departments.
If you’re in the Halloween spirit and like stories about Native American burial grounds and communicating with the dead, then maybe you’ll enjoy Whispering Willows, especially if you prefer shorter experiences. Otherwise, I can’t say I’d recommend it: it’s much too short of an experience for most, and doesn’t do much which helps it stand out among other similar games.