One of my favorite genres is the open-world adventure game. You get to travel long distances, find hidden little areas and see a wide variety of people/places and things. With some RPG elements, or more realism, it can be just about the perfect game. So when Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles came up, I was excited about it – it's another one of those games I love, and I put them at a pretty high bar. And how was it? Well, let's start with story:
You crash onto an island (Gemea), and you alone must free the island from the evil. I can give more detail, but after I played it, I realized, that despite paying attention and reading/listening to the game for hours, this was my still my main takeaway. It's the same plot of countless other games/movies/shows out there. The writing is pretty basic too – There are numerous original PlayStation games that had more depth than Yonder. There's no fighting element (more on that in a bit), but all you end up doing is running around collecting things to defeat evil, while pulling numerous side jobs. The story really disappointed me, as we never got a huge world story out of it, just a few bits here and there along with “Go and do this” sort of missions. Zelda and Elder Scrolls did the story a LOT better, and even among games in the same age group, Harvest Moon still had at least some goings on to tie everything up.
I played on the PS4, and the controls were pretty great. The developer and studio obviously put a lot of work into the controls, because it didn't feel like an indie game, but more like a time-tested set of instructions. Even more, the controls went above and beyond, giving little options in some movements. It fit well for the PS4, and they fit like a glove.
Gameplay is a real mixed bag. It does the FarCry sort of things where it's amazingly organic. It's a real world, and you need to craft and build and interact through it and slowly get better. Think FarCry, Harvest Moon, Zelda, and Elder Scrolls, but minus any violence. That's what we have here – a combination of those. And since it's set to a younger crowd, it totally works in that regard.
On the the other side of gameplay is that there is no real objective than to do tasks. There are no real missions, and it doesn't feel like there is any real point to anything you're doing. It's kinda like living life in this world. The violence was taken out, but nothing replaced it, so all you are doing is building and crafting and exploring. Even the enemies in the bag, these pulsing, blobish things, are “defeated” by doing random tasks. There could have been puzzles, or new areas of exploration or something. It's like having a game where you finish all the missions, yet you still go with no task. Games usually put in mini-games, recurring missions or DLC to fill this, but here it's the same cycle of doing things over and over. Something big was missing.
The graphics are amazing. What got me was the sun/shadowing. It looked incredibly lifelike. The rest of the graphics are PS2/PS3 level – detailed, but 3D cartoon detailed. A lot of copy/paste plants/land, with solid colors appearing a little too much. Even the people/animals have more minimalist features. But with that comes really amazing scenery. It gives almost a surreal-quality too it. It's such an animated world that's obviously not lifelike, but then comes all these incredibly detailed bits. The graphics are kid-friendly for sure and bring in mind Mii's on the Wii, but all those other details, like the lighting and weather, push this part of the game way, way up.
The Music of the game was a bit cutesy for me, but it worked and feels right in place here. It reminded me of the classic kids games of the 90's and early 2000's. But, like the graphics, there are a few spots where it becomes hyper realistic. The sounds of the game do it. Some are obviously cartoonish, but others around the world are amazing. Foliage has sounds. Cicadas have sounds. It's this realistic world sounds that go and in hand with the realistic lighting. They put a lot of work to make the world seem alive, and it shows. With out those touches, this would have been average, but with all that attention to detail, this shoots sound way up as well.
There are only a few bugs here and there. Some weirdly clipped movements between objects in the game world and longer than usual delays in opening things in-game are among them. Little annoyances, but you won't think on them for more than a few seconds. The frame rate was also good on my PS4 – it seemed to lag a split second behind me using a control and the character reacting to it, but it may be just me. Just those tiny things that huge open world games tend to get and can be easily forgiven.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is a good game, but not a great game. It does many things right and speaks to it's audience, but the story can be severely lacking and you end up in a rut of things to do. It almost seems to lose purpose at times, and for a game, that's not a good thing to have. This is a good introductory game into this genre for kids before they graduate to Elder Scrolls, Fable, Zelda (It almost feels like a Zelda ripoff at times), or even GTA, and I do recommend giving this game a try because it can be pretty charming. But you'll feel like it's missing something big the entire time.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided by the game's publisher for the purpose of review.