You’re walking down the road in a small village, sun blazing down, making the cobblestone path hot underfoot. You leave the outskirts of town, ready for adventure… and find yourself in the middle of the tundra. Or the desert. Or a lush, thick rainforest. In this procedurally generated sidescrolling platformer sword & sorcery RPG (yeah, I said it), you are wandering around the world after an apocalypse that not only destroyed the world of Environ, sending it into a quasi ice age, but also managed to take down the confines of space and time as we know it. All biomes imaginable seem to have been condensed down to within walking distance of one another, each containing distinct enemies, environments, and pickups (as you’d expect).
It’s a unique idea, that of a platformer RPG. At first glance, I couldn’t blame you if you instantly drew similarities to Terraria, but that’s only because it’s also a non-linear platformer. A Valley Without Wind has a much more old-school RPG feel to it, with upgrading skills, crafting spells and defeating monsters taking charge of the gameplay, while Terraria is, in its rawest form, a sidescrolling Minecraft. You might also reminisce about Super Metroid, and it’s magnificent application of exploratory side-scrolling brilliance.
AVWW (as I’ll call it from hereon) can be initially overwhelming, with a huge number of items, gameplay mechanisms, enemies, elemental attacks, and environments for you to wrap your head around. Luckily for you, the game provides a “Big Hunkin’ Encyclopedia” to help you on your way, à la the Civ series’ Civilopedia. At one point, I was stuck for hours with my path blocked by a massive slime who was immune to my elemental attack, and not possessing another method of doing damage, I noticed that each time I hit it that it would do 0.5 damage. So I sat there, for ten minutes, slowly wearing the slime’s HP down in order to pass.
AVWW employs the same gravestone-death-thing that we’re familiar with after Demon’s Souls. Initially, the tombstones are amusing and somewhat helpful, but soon enough they become annoying and unnecessary popups. Plus, you can’t help but think just how stupid the people who died before you were. Perma-death is also interestingly employed – upon starting the game, you’re presented with a couple of randomly generated characters, but as the game informs you, “don’t get too attached to any one character. It’s not a question of if you’ll die, but when you’ll die”. And when you do kick the bucket, you’ll respawn with a new randomly generated character and retain your full inventory, but without your stat upgrades.
A huge number of spells are available for modification and tweaking in AVWW. All sorts of different enemies will hinder you in your quest for peace in the world of Environ. The problem is, while they all have different names, there are essentially two spells, long range and short range; and two foes, flying and walking. You’ll find yourself placing platforms and running around identical environments whether you play 10 minutes or 10 weeks worth of AVWW – it’s repetitive, in short. The art direction and music are sure to polarise gamers – either you’ll love the old-school throwback MIDI audio and vibrant, turn-of-the-century style environments, or you’ll absolutely loathe them. The manual is a gorgeously colourful, informative, and 33-pages long, so if you want the extra background to the plot and the on-hand item information, and have 33 sheets of paper handy, it might be worth your while. You know, if you like manuals. I do.
Arcen Games are known for their unique, off-kilter titles, such as AI War: Fleet Command, an ambitious, remarkably deep RTS. AVWW continues this trend of “let’s fuck with what the gamer knows and create something totally different” by haphazardly mashing the genres of platformer and RPG together in a strange, malformed hybrid. While well-intentioned, AVWW requires a huge investment of time and concentration in order to be fully appreciated, and yet doesn’t really provide enough reason for me to want to regularly return to the world of Environ. It’s a promising idea though, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next development on this mishmash of genres. But – and my frequent readers will know what I’m about to say – if one thing sort of redeems AVWW, it’s the presence of windowed mode!
Select Start Media was provided a review copy of A Valley Without Wind by Arcen Games.