There's a troll blocking our path, bellowing with rage. The witch says she can defeat it with a curse but I've got a better idea. I will defeat it through the power of song. Fortunately, every problem Wandersong has thrown at me (at least in the first two acts, which is what I've played so far and all I'm allowed to tell you about) can be solved by singing at it. Singing to the wind to change its directions and carry me across gaps, singing at plants to make them lift me to unreachable ledges, singing at monsters to soothe them—Wandersong keeps finding inventive ways to make the Power of Music useful.
In a way it's like Space Channel 5, only much more gentle and less frantic. It has that same sense of having swapped the space where action normally goes with music, and I'm fine with that. I'd love it if there were more videogame musicals.
To sing you push the right-stick in one of eight directions that represent different notes which appear around you in a color-coded wheel (you can also use mouse and keys). Sometimes it's just the direction that's important, like when pushing against the force of that troll's roar, and sometimes it turns into a rhythm game where I have to match someone else's tune to impress them, or hit notes in time with sliding blocks of color to perform a specific song.
It's not super complicated. I had some trouble with a bit that involved performing with a band, but only because I didn't notice it wanted me to play the same note twice. Even then, repeating a sequence a few times before I got it right, my head was nodding along and I was having a fine time. Wandersong's soundtrack is by A Shell in the Pit, who have provided excellent music for games like Rogue Legacy and Okhlos, and what I've heard of this one has been great, jaunty and bright like the game itself.
Wandersong's tone is relentlessly positive, Our Hero wears a goofy smile in almost every scene, often in contrast with more suspicious characters around him like the cynical witch or a cranky old lady who knows one of the song fragments I need to learn but refuses to teach it.
There's a high fantasy plot about a goddess who wants to press the big red reset button on reality and start over, which can only be stopped by learning all of the Earthsong and singing it in unity to prove things are actually all right with the world. It's optimistic as all get-out, as reflected by the visuals, which are pastel and papery. When characters change direction for a moment they narrow and become invisible, revealing that everyone's as two-dimensional as card stuck on an artboard.
I've found no use for the dance button yet, but even if I never do, that's OK. I love when games have expressive touches that let you do pointless things just because they're fun, like the silly walks in West of Loathing or the hum button in Transistor. They don't affect a game's systems but they do impact on its tone. Wandersong is full of these little touches of personality, like being able to sing to flowers to change their color or birds so they follow you. Sometimes the wheel of musical notes doubles as a dialogue wheel, letting me sing my words like a show-off. Sometimes I just dance at people.
Every edition of D&D has tried to find a new way to make bards cool. Sometimes bards are a jack-of-all-trades class, a bit good at everything. Sometimes they're specialists, whether in a support role providing inspirational buffs, or expertise in lore. And yet even when they're overpowered, they're never cool. They are usually just a dork with a lute.
Wandersong embraces that dorkiness. You're a pacifist who dreams of being a sword-wielding hero but in reality is looked down on by everybody in the village for being "that noisy guy". Talented, sure, but also a bit much? You're an ostentatious theatre kid basically, but that never stops you from doing what's right. You may not have an array of magical spells or a magic sword, but you stand up for others in the face of danger anyway. In a way, that's even more heroic. I think I'm going to go easier on bards from now on.
Wandersong is due out on September 27 (opens in new tab).