Developed by Moonlight Kids and published by Humble Games, The Wild at Heart first caught my eye in March, during an ID@Xbox showcase. Not much of the game was shown, it wasn’t one of the few that received a developer interview, but the gameplay and visuals instantly excited me.
The first thing that made me curious was the familiar-looking health bars that looked suspiciously the same as those seen in the Pikmin games. This was of course not an accident, as the game takes quite a lot of influence from the Nintendo title.
However, beyond the influence and the UI similarities to Pikmin, The Wild at Heart is able to set itself apart as a charming and beautiful game in its own right.
In the game you play as Wake, a young boy neglected by his father who runs away from home with a sandwich and a Gameboy. Wake stumbles into the Deep Wood, a magical area filled with strange creatures where you meet a weird man called Grey Coat, a man wearing a coat that is very clearly not Grey.
Every time you meet someone in the game their name is shown as a description of how they look followed by “weirdo” until they tell Wake their name, which is just one example of how charming this game’s writing can be. Another is a conversation Wake has with his best friend Kirby, another player character, where the two talk about just how many boys in their school are called Kyle, a tale most can relate to. Together, Wake and Kirby must join Grey Coat and his order the Greenshields to stop a force called the Never, that intends to escape the Deep Wood.
The introduction of Grey Coat is accompanied by music that matches his bizarre and whimsical appearance. The entire soundtrack does an incredible job of matching the mood of the beautifully drawn locations and I never found myself tiring of any track in the game.
One of the most effective tracks is the music that marks entry into the night, which shifts the tone as soon as it begins, filling you with terror as the sound of the eerie ticking of a clock warns you that soon the world won’t be safe. The music and visuals fit the tone of the game perfectly and I have basically no complaints there. I did have some slowdown and serious sound issues in some areas or when I played for long enough, but these issues were more so my underpowered laptop struggling to play the game rather than an issue with the game itself.
As previously stated, the game takes and is inspired frequently by the Pikmin series. In Pikmin you play a space explorer who uses the local inhabitants to clear obstacles, defeat enemies and either collect parts for a ship, gold or fruit to survive. Most of these elements are present in The Wild at Heart.
Early on Wake meets the Spriteling’s, with each having unique abilities that allow for progression in the Deep Woods, with individual types being able to take on certain obstacles or more easily defeat elemental enemies. This is mostly done through throwing the Spriteling’s at enemies until they die, however unlike Pikmin which allows you to move and throw, combat in The Wild at Heart can only be done while stationary which at times can get frustrating.
In Pikmin a battle is often more easily won from behind or with the proper positioning and movement from Olimar, but in this game Wake and Kirby are unable to move while throwing and the combat is designed with this in mind, meaning while encounters aren’t a pushover, none require much strategy beyond choosing the Spriteling best for the job and throwing them at the target. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the game favors the exploration aspect of the series, with a lack of boss fights for the most part, but I did miss the more versatile combat mechanics of the Pikmin games.
The world of The Wild at Heart is separated into different areas, each accessible from one central point and requiring certain Spriteling abilities to progress. These areas are visually distinct and each lean more heavily on the Spriteling you meet there, giving you a good idea of what Spriteling’s to bring and what you are expected to do.
Along with the Spriteling’s, you also interact with the world with Wake and Kirby’s own abilities, with Wake having a homemade vacuum pack and Kirby being given a magical lantern. Each can call back Spriteling’s and collect scrap and energy needed to craft and buy things but both characters also have puzzles only they can interact with. Wake’s vacuum can be used to open certain doors operated by pinwheels, while Kirby can travel through tight spaces to access other areas, destroy some of the Nevers influence and open doors blocked by light gates. Through the use of their individual abilities and the Spriteling’s Kirby and Wake traverse levels, opening shortcuts as they go to get to areas faster from their camp and using everything at their disposal to progress.
One major change to the Pikmin formula I outlined earlier is in the removal of the survival aspect of the series. While there is still a day-night cycle and crafting has been added, there is no reason to hurry or resource consumed daily to worry about at risk of a game over. Along with this, you can continue playing during the night which is another aspect unique to The Wild at Heart, with the Nevers influence creating monsters that can damage you quickly and easily kill the Spriteling’s, though you’re safe as long as you stay near your camp.
This removal of pressure allows for the player to control the day-night cycle more directly, as you are not penalized for achieving something small and then sleeping to refresh the time limit. In some ways, this is freeing, but a lack of a visual indicator of time passed still means that losing track of time is common. Having to quickly escape to your camp at the end of the day without knowledge night was approaching can be frustrating, especially when the Spriteling’s are carrying an object that resets back to its starting position if dropped.
The basic puzzle solving set up of Pikmin is not only present but at times incredibly well achieved. During a section in an underground location was where the game truly clicked for me. The flow of making progress, opening new shortcuts to make further progress easier and cutting down on backtracking and solving puzzles was at its best during sections where the goal is to get through a location and exit into the next. This flow however is upset during the second half, which is far more interested in traversing an area and going to each corner to collect a series of objects to open a door. While with the first objective where to go next was always evident, in the second half these object hunts can get frustrating when I only had one item left and couldn’t remember where I’d been and had to search around to find the one part of the map I hadn’t explored.
There are things to collect outside of the main story, such as lost cats and artifacts for the game’s museum but other than that there isn’t much to do outside of the main story. There are some hidden locations but no side content other than these collectibles and bounties you can complete for money. This once again wasn’t an issue for me as I enjoyed the ten or so hours I spent with the game, but I could see the lack of extra things to do being an issue for some. You can continue to upgrade yourself and craft items but I personally didn’t feel the crafting system added much to the game and barely used it.
This is with the exception of the rare time the story required me to craft, and certain obstacles that can be destroyed with a craftable bomb. Other than this, the other things you can craft may help you if you’re struggling but it’s very easy to get through the game without them.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the game, and outside of a few frustrations and coming against some expectations from being a Pikmin fan, the game really did work for me. While I had my gripes, the game is charming with an environment and cast of characters that are never dull. The game scratched the itch I had for a game like this and was thoroughly enjoyable while I played it, and it’s definitely one I’ll play again someday. It takes the core mechanics of Pikmin and gives it an indie look and feel that feels fresh and works well with its gameplay inspirations, with a story that is both heartwarming and endlessly charming and funny from start to finish. While I wish it maintained the exploration and area progression focus of the first half, the second is still fun and for anyone looking for some light strategy exploration outside of Nintendo’s franchise, this game is a great place to look.
The Wild at Heart
The Wild at Heart is a whimsical, entertaining adventure about escaping difficult family life and working together in unison. While the game has its faults, it never fails to charm and excites from beginning to end.
- Beautiful visuals and music
- Whimsical and memorable characters
- Invigorating puzzle exploration
- Lacking visual indicator of the day-night cycle
- Simplistic combat
- Less enjoyable second half