The humble platformer used to be the daddy of all gaming genres. We’d have iconic team leaders like Sonic, Mario and Crash helping sell games by the bucket-load in order to keep their hungry audience happy. In more recent years the adventure games, the first-person shooters and a multitude of online sport games have taken that mantle away from the platformer and it’s been left to the the indie market to embrace the genre. Wenjia is one of those, with its simple mechanics and beautiful world. But does it hark back to those bygone days of platform glory?
Wenjia is a traditional platformer that features huge levels teeming with secrets, adventure and peril. You play as a little white fox whose job it is to help out a bunch of rabbits, saving the forest itself from evil and chaos. I think that’s the jist of it anyways, as that’s about all I can fathom out from the story, but that’s all good because the visuals and adventure tell the tale without the need for massive cutscenes and lengthy pieces of dialogue.
The gameplay is as simple as simple can get. You guide your white fox across the screen from left to right and you utilise a simple jump and a clever double jump. There aren’t any spins, or attacks, or dodges to worry about; it’s just that simple control system. You jump to avoid the hazards like spikes, pits of death or a huge flowing lava river that is following you at speed, hopping and skipping your way past any obstacle. But there is one other feature that separates this game from the other members of the pack…
See, the entire game world of Wenjia consists of parallel light and dark realms. You can switch between the two worlds with the touch of the button, for example on one world everything is all colourful and light, while the other is ethereal and strange. It’s a tactic that I’ve seen used a few times in games recently, but it’s one that works really well here and is employed perfectly. You might have trouble reaching a ledge, but that is no problem as a simple switch between the worlds will ensure that there is something to jump on to. What the game does well is that it then uses this technique to really test the player’s ability to switch seamlessly between the two worlds, ensuring that timing is essential. One level had me make my way through a tunnel with a spike on the top and bottom; in the ethereal world there was hot air that would lift the little fox in the air, whilst in the normal world, nothing. The trick is to switch between the two planes so that you are gently bobbing along the middle without touching the spikes. It’s tricky, but hugely rewarding when it works.
The whole gameplay mechanics work well as a platformer, but there does come a point when you’ll want to blame the game for its lack of responsiveness, when all along it is your reflexes getting the better of you again. Either way it doesn’t matter because Wenjia provides some very forgiving checkpoints along the way. These are great too, apart from one section in which you are trying to escape the lava flow; that is the most unforgiving level I’ve played on this generation of consoles and it seems as if the checkpoints have gone on holiday and left you to it. Without a word of a lie, it must have taken me a good couple of hundred attempts to get past this level – and weirdly I’m still just about sane.
Should you be wishing for more from Wenjia, then there are a whole bunch of secrets to look out for and a ton of achievements to collect – both of these will give you an almighty challenge after the game is complete.
Visually it is all rather delightful on the eyes and it is these visuals which are easily the best thing about the whole Wenjia experience. Using what looks like a hand drawn animation that reminds me a little of Okami, the game is a beautiful creature to behold. The way the animation switches between the two worlds is seamless and cleverly done. The audio meanwhile is all about the score; an epic orchestral number that is superb to listen to initially, but if you have to repeat a hard section of the game you will hear that fragment of the music stuck on a constant loop. There are also some noticeable sound mixing problems in the latter levels.
Overall though and there is a lot to love about this little indie game. It’s a simple but very effective platformer that comes complete with a brilliantly nifty little trick allowing you to use two different worlds in one. There are some helpful checkpoints – at least until a certain area – and the beautiful world it creates is a delight on the eyeballs. The biggest issue I have with Wenjia though is the price; it is just a bit too high.
If you want to take a little trip down memory lane and are ready to get your platforming skills working again then Wenjia just about gets the job done.