Arcen Games previous title, AI War, wasn’t a natural precursors to A Valley Without Wind, but it’s hard to imagine what would be. AVWW was a procedurally generated 2D sidescroller combined with a tile based strategy game. Yeah, that’s not two genres that you would normally see mashed together. While the game was interesting in that it merged two such disparate genres together, and combined them with some weird indie presentation, it was a curiosity rather than a complete game. It was weird, atmospheric and intriguing, but ultimately just too rough and amateurish to really capture a huge audience. So with the sequel, have they finally nailed the formula and crafted a game that successfully combines Contra and a Metroidvania game with strategy overtones?
Its best to use Arcen games own descirption to get an idea of what exactly A Valley Without Wind 2 is.:
“A 2D sidescroller without a linear path. An action game with tactical combat and city-building. An adventure game that lets you free-roam a vast, procedurally-generated world. A Valley Without Wind defies genre stereotypes.”
That does sound interesting, and A Valley Without Wind 2 starts strongly with some gorgeous music. Clearly Arcen put the funds aside for some professional musicians to create the music for the second game in the series, and compared to its predecessors plinky plonky chiptunes, A Valley Without Wind 2 sounds gorgeous. Its an inviting start, and the games somewhat rough presentation early on can be overlooked as its smart tutorial system combines with a great aural ambiance to suck you into the weird game world they have created.
Sadly the games visuals and in-game presentation aren’t up to the same standard. I’ve seen a huge number of amateur projects in Unity, and A Valley Without Wind 2 looks like most of them. The animation for your main character is really distracting, with a weird stiff upper body and stretchy, spidery legs making for a thoroughly off-putting avatar. This is combined with some very basic visuals in the levels themselves, and some thoroughly 8-bit enemies. Floating thingies and running blobs and jumping whatsits abound, and they’re neither engaging enemies to fight or interesting challenges to overcome. Worryingly, A Valley Without Wind 2 comes packaged with the original game (which is admittedly very generous) which features slightly better visuals and markedly better animation. At least the character design seems better there, whereas here everything feels like place holder art.
I don’t want to make it seem like A Valley Without Wind 2 is a simple or unambitious game. Quite the opposite, it’s layered with clever ideas that make you want to enjoy the platforming. You can customize your character, and that customisation is deep. With a whole range of different spells that change how your character moves, jumps and fights, there’s real scope for experimentation with the combinations offering totally different gameplay experiences. You can even rescue people and send them out on missions, and these play into the strategy sections.
There’s a permanency to your character and the world. When you free one continent, another bigger one is unlocked for you to save next, and when your character dies they are gone for good. The strategy section of the game is basic but perhaps more engaging than the platforming part. The evil overlord you face on this over-world map is menacing and the theme of freedom fighting and fostering rebellion is great. Moving your troops from place to place and city building is enjoyable enough, but again the visuals and dynamic elements of this process is basic. There are so many games available that can suck up your life with meticulous detail (Crusader Kings) or visually appealing, dynamic cities, so why would you want to play something so much more limited and basic?
And the strategy element is only half the package. You need to go platforming at some point, and sadly, procedurally generated platform levels are no fun. Game design can be at its purest in the layouts of perfect 2D platform design. Whether its level 1-1 of Mario or the faultless layout of the first stage of Megaman on NES, level design can make or break a platform game, and leaving those levels to be generated randomly simply isn’t good enough. Worse, the jumping and physics of the platforming feels floaty and imprecise. Put simply, its not fun. Experimenting with your compliment of powers can be enjoyable, but when there’s no good enemies to use them on and no interesting level design to work through, they quickly become pointless.
Sadly, A Valley Without Wind 2 is hard to recommend. The people who love tile based strategy games are often not the same ones who crave 16 bit platformers, and even if someone liked both genres, neither is executed very well here. Full of great ideas and potential, A Valley Without Wind 2 even includes a good story and a brilliant soundtrack to try to capture your heart. Sadly, on closer inspection its too ugly and rough for anyone to love.
5 grand ideas, grimily gone astray out of 10