The line between ugly and pretty can be hard to define in modern 2D games with distinctive visual aesthetics. One man’s stylised cartoon visuals are another’s low detail, basic and ugly sprites. Islands of Wakfu is one of those games that will split opinion straight down the middle. The first impression it makes will either be one of fond affinity for its cutesy cartoon look, or mild revulsion at its basic and childish appearance.
Once the game gets under way it remains unclear of whether this is a game for children or adults. The initially basic storyline and comedy, Sim-glish style voices accompanied by basic text instructions make it seem like a fun, Zelda-esque romp for kids. The basic exploration and combat feels lightweight and the simple layout of the forest environment along with the heavy hand-holding of the cloying tutorial make it feel resolutely child-friendly.
As the tutorial continues though and more and more gameplay concepts are layered on, the games depth and complexity start to grow. From the character switching dynamic (which is present in singleplayer) to combos, blocking, countering, teleporting and special moves, there’s a great deal to learn to defeat different types of enemies and overcome puzzles. The difficulty ramps up as the game goes on too, making this initially fun and simple experience more challenging and even at times frustrating.
Throughout the game you play as The Eliatrope, a teleporting, hand-to-hand fighting humanoid. If playing with another player in co-op (local only) then they play as a spitting dragon creature that’s controlled more like a twin stick shooter’s spaceship. Playing singeplayer lets you switch between the two for shapeshifting, puzzle solving fun.
It seems the game was balanced for co-op multiplayer. Facing wave after wave of enemies can get dull, and of the two different modes of combat for the two different characters neither is particularly well developed or deep. In mutliplayer the two gameplay styles make for some interesting team dynamics, but in singleplayer its purely one average gameplay style or the other that you choose between.
The story also quickly devolves into confusion as new terms and obscure names are dropped with increasing frequency. Its mostly high fantasy nonsense, but as the prequel to insane MMORPG Doofus, its often hard to follow (and in truth hard to care about) the adventures of the rather bland characters. Ankama would perhaps do better to craft a unique fantasy universe for future non-MMORPG titles if they don’t want new players to feel lost in the dense fiction.
So when it comes to recommending Wakfu its tough to identify the audience. Its combat is fun but repetitive, its story is uninteresting and its visuals are charming or basic depending on your tastes. Its fun for kids at first but boring for adults. Later, its too difficult for children but deep enough for more serious gamers if they have managed to endure the dull early levels. The tutorial seems to go on for ever, but when its gone the number of gameplay mechanics are quickly forgotten and the player feels lost as they struggle against a tough boss or obscure puzzle, unable to remember what they’re supposed to do.
Overcoming these challenges and finding the enjoyable core of the game is more fun with a friend sitting next to you on the sofa. Without one of those, the lack of online co-op makes this a somewhat workmanlike singleplayer experience. In other words, if you have a friend, you might want to get Wakfu too. If not, fantasy adventure would best be found in a revisit to Hyrule.
5 gobbing dragons out of 10