Windbound For Nintendo Switch Review – Breath Of The Windwaker
Developed By: 5 Lives Studios
Published By: Deepsilver
Survival, Action, RPG
Shipwrecked alone on an uncharted island, explore, adapt and navigate the land and perilous seas to stay alive.
As Kara, you are a warrior, caught at sea in a fierce storm, adrift from your tribe. Thrown from your boat, at the mercy of the turbulent waters, you are tossed on to the shores of the Forbidden Islands, a mysterious paradise.
With no boat, no food or tools, just the will and skill to survive, uncover this beautiful island’s rich resources. Craft tools and weapons to hunt and defend yourself against nature itself with its wild and fantastical creatures.
Whilst exploring further islands and the scattered ruins across their lands, secrets of the past and glimpses of the future are revealed. Unravel the mystery behind them all and you may find more than just your way home.
Opening with an epic cutscene that sets the tone of the game going forward, Windbound is unlike any other game you will have played. With not a spoken word throughout, it’s up to you, the player to come to your own conclusion as to the story that unfolds.
You play as Kara, a fierce warrior who gets separated from her tribe during a seabound voyage, possibly a pilgrimage. You wake up to find yourself shipwrecked on an unknown and mysterious island. With all your tools and supplies lost to the sea and your boat in ruins, you’ll have to rely on your keen survivalist instincts to keep you alive and make it off of the island.
From the outset and beyond, you are going to have to use all the resources that the various islands and indigenous wildlife provide. This includes building rudimentary tools and weapons to help you hunt and forage to building a boat and making food to keep you going.
To begin Windbound, the struggle is real. As you are constantly balancing your hunger and stamina bar, which are one and the same. Not only that but if you aim to improve your weapons and armour, you will need to scavenge from all forms of flora and fauna.
The Sea’s The Life For Me
Once you get past the initial and at times overwhelming amount of resource management of the “starter” island, Windbound really opens up. In particular, once you have built your first boat and take to the seas.
It’s clear from this point that a lot of emphasis has been put into the sailing and exploration aspect of the game. You are given an entirely open world to discover for yourself. With no obvious goal, no compass or map, you are required to feel out the world for yourself.
To keep the challenge going, each map you are given is procedurally generated. As well as the starter island, you’ll discover many other islands and rocky outcrops throughout your journey to fulfil your crossing.
For a successful crossing, you will be required to seek out 3 “beacon towers” which, due to the randomisation mechanics at play, will be in different locations each time. Once you have discovered and ignited all 3 towers, you then simply need to search for and sail to the “alter.”
It is important that you find all the beacons BEFORE you head to the alter, as these are necessary to cross the 3 bridges to actually reach the alter. It is a very simple yet satisfying gameplay loop that actually took me a fair few hours to even realise was there. Hence the importance of exploration and discovery. The more ground (or sea) you cover, will help you progress through the story.
Once you have successfully completed a crossing, you are presented with another alter at the other end. Here you can exchange sea shards which you pick up throughout your journey for blessings. These blessings come in two flavours. The first is an active blessing, usually, a divine weapon that won’t break and the second is normally a passive blessing. These can be things like reduced stamina cost, better stealth or simply extra slots. Once you have made your choice, it’s time to rinse and repeat, except this time the map is now bigger and has been randomised.
Join The Hunt
Aside from exploration, the other strong mechanic in Windbound at work here is survival and combat. Survival, as mentioned earlier, is a fine balancing act between keeping your health up as well as managing your hunger. It is important to note that the hunger meter is shared with your stamina bar. In short, if you don’t keep Kara well fed at all times, your stamina starts decreasing, which in turn will negatively impact your sprinting, swimming and fighting capabilities.
To stay well-fed, you can pick various fruits and mushrooms to eat, or simply hunt wildlife for their meat. Whilst the vegetarian option boasts the ability to eat it however you like, the meat ideally needs to be cooked, which in and of itself requires you to build a fire, which needs materials to do so.
You could eat it raw if you like, however, the benefits will be reduced greatly and you will be poisoned by it, which will lead to the camera being distorted. Not good, especially if confronted by a predator.
It is worth mentioning that there are two modes of play on offer. The main mode you start with is Survival. This is the way the developers intend for you to play. It is here that the rogue-lite elements really shine through. For if you are killed in this mode, you will lose all progress made and items accrued and will be sent back to chapter 1.
The second mode – and the mode I played on – is Story. Whilst it is mostly the same, the rogue elements are gone so you are not punished so harshly if you fall to the environments. Though you will still be required to rebuild your boat again before you can proceed. This mode is far more chilled and will allow you to carry on with your voyage to uncover the mysteries presented to you.
Windbound is a unique game that finds itself in a fairly untapped corner of the eShop. It does, for the most part, a commendable job of mashing together various elements of different games and genres.
To begin with, I really liked the art-style. It’s not too difficult to see the similarities with The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. Which to me is a good thing as I loved the aesthetics of that game. Then there is the sailing mechanics and exploration. The sailing wasn’t perfect but it did get the job done whilst the simple controls for the boat really reminded me of Windwaker.
Even the soundtrack in Windbound was done very well. Going for a very down-played and minimalist approach. It only really picked up when out at sea or in a story segment. Then you would hear the solo piano and strings that soared and swelled with the tone and atmosphere of the current situation.
Unfortunately, my enjoyment was cut rather short due to some unforgivable bugs and glitches. To begin with, I felt the game was just a little too vague and unforgiving right from the go. I understand the strong pull towards discovery and mystery, but the problem was – for me at least- the balancing. Even on Story Mode, the very steep difficulty curve was very apparent very early on, which did nothing but hinder my progress.
This was most apparent in the balancing of the survival elements. While it was a good thing that weapon degradation was relatively slow and materials were plentiful, the same can’t be said for the overbearing hunger mechanic, which I felt was far too punishing on either mode. This led to me spending more time than I would have liked on foraging and cooking which really killed my flow. For instance, I would cook up a whole leg of raw meat and feed it to Kara only for her to feel hungry again merely seconds later!
Then there are some rather janky animations, particularly with Kara and with the boat physics. These led to some rather odd yet frustrating instances of fall damage and damage received from my capsizing boat.
Lastly were the crashes. Probably the most damning glitches of the lot. To begin with, the game has no autosave function, so you will be wise to manually save regularly and not fall victim, like I did. At first, these didn’t really bother me as it only really happened after a manual save. It was only on the final day of my playthrough, only after I had put a whole Saturday afternoon’s worth of progress into chapter 5. I had finally lit all the beacons and reached the alter, I was about to place the shell into the stone when the game crashed and with it, that whole afternoon progress was lost.
I understand that manual saves are par for the course with many rogue-lite games, but to keep them in on what is essentially a casual mode is unacceptable. To lose progress through death is one thing, but for it to happen due to instability within the code of the game is unforgivable.
Windbound was a huge disappointment for me as I was finally understanding the game and was really getting into it only to have 2 hours of play erased in the blink of an eye. Furthermore, with a title commanding £24.99 or $29.99, it sits at the more premium end of the indie market.
However, at this point, I am finding Windbound hard to recommend. At least until it goes on sale or receives some stability and bug fixes.
Not quite there/Needs improvement
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Reviewed by Micramanic on the Nintendo Switch. Game provided by Deep Silver.