Selma and the Wisp Review
I was pulled away from the grips of my Smash habit by a beautiful underdog who goes by the name of Selma and the Wisp. The graphics were not as daring, the controls not as fluid, and the characters not as historic. Nonetheless, I was pulled into its world, and I think I know why. It was dark, and at the center of the screen was a bright spirit glowing like a firefly, illuminating my screen and capturing my visual attention. I was literally pulled into the screen despite all my self-awareness of its perceived shortcomings.
This, I later learned, was a feature of the game itself.
The game endows you with the task of saving a fragile girl, “Selma”, from the ever-shrouding darkness imbued into the environment by allowing you to control what seems to be her guardian spirit a la Navi from The Legend of Zelda 64. This Wisp, the glowing ball, illuminates not only the screen so that you literally don’t have to squint to figure out each nifty puzzle, but it also prevents Selma from having a heart attack, one of two ways by which you can get game-over screen.
There are two health meters in this game, both of which operate separately from one another. This approach gets high marks for creativity, both from a game-mechanic perspective and a plot-perspective. You control Wisp and so your first inclination will be to focus on the health meter above that directly relates to Wisp, a glowing whitish-blue bar at the top of the screen. This meter is always depleting itself as the Wisp’s glow grows fainter. As this glow decreases, the actual visibility of the screen, in a game whose environment already takes place in a mostly dark and night-based setting, will become even darker. As you struggle to see, so does Selma, along with you. When that drops to nothing, then so will Selma. Luckily, the game has a large quantity of re-spawn locations that are never too far from where you fell. This is actually a quite satisfying feature considering the level of difficulty woven throughout the control system making death a fairly recurring theme.
The next health meter, which will not catch your attention right away, an interesting design choice, in my opinion, is Selma’s physical heart meter located in the top right corner of the screen in dark red. You will most likely only notice this once you, the Wisp, stray too far off from Selma’s view. You may even hear a neat slow-down effect on the music that is very “chilly” to let you know time is running out to come back to Selma. So, you have two health meters. It’s a nice combo that is woven into the game’s ghostly plot device. You might say eerie and mysterious as well because as this game continues onward, you really never know what the heck is going on. And that is magnified by often times not even know what is visually going on, on account of the Wisp’s health meter running low. Which, remember, is the meter for your visibility. So, it’s two characters you are controlling, each with their own health meter. Again, a single player game that refreshes the indie scene with two characters cooperating simultaneously. All to get to a lighthouse which I found quite alluring and confusing altogether. The ending will leave you with the ability to ponder its meaning as you drift through the credits. And, by the way, I did recently watch Ringu, the original Japanese movie that The Ring, in the West, is based on. Moving on.
So, what genre is this game? Well, it’s got your fundamental platformer architecture of moving almost exclusively left to right while jumping every now and then ( a la Zelda 64 style where the jump is simply controlled by going off a platform) and it has blue spheres that act like coins do in terms of guiding your visual path, only these spheres replenish the Wisp’s ever-dropping health meter, and therefore your visibility as well. I really can not express how much I loved this lack of visibility despite its drawback as an actual obstacle because it actually forces engagement with the screen and puts you in the psychological perspective of Selma, almost like playing Skyward Sword where the Wii-mote is actually a sword following your mannerisms. So, as you struggle to find the hidden cues, you begin to get sucked into the world of Selma and the Wisp. It’s frustrating at times, but that feeling runs parallel to the Tim Burton-esque fragility of Selma herself. You will notice when she is hit by an on-screen obstacle or runs out of her health meter, she dies violently as you can tell by the sound and look of her body. Plus there is some awfully eerie text that will accompany your game over screen each time she perishes. As an adult, I found this a bit disturbing, I wonder what kids will think. It’s probably fine, but it is a bit off-setting if that’s your fix.
So, it has some basic platformer ingredients, but it is a simple puzzle-based game at heart. So, hmmm, maybe it’s just 50/50 then. You decide. Basically, you control Wisp and Selma follows the Wisp. Your enemy-based obstacles will be mainly (not always) there to avoid rather than destroy, and the other inanimate obstacles, like a locked door or a giant boulder, will be overcome by finding a visual point on the screen that brings up a target-like cursor notifying you to activate it, usually by just pressing A or dragging another item to it, an item that you would pick up by hovering over it and pressing A. Like picking up a key and bringing it to a door. This cursor-like target only appears when the Wisp is directly over an engage-able obstacle. So, visually, you will be rummaging throughout the screen to find out what to engage with. To do this, you will always be in a sort of fight-flight mode since the Wisp’s meter is always naturally depleting and Selma’s heart meter is always dropping when the Wisp is not nearby. So, you are on your toes, which makes the game move a lot psychologically. And again, luckily, the re-spawn points are plentiful.
Please stick with this game as you will find this struggle mirrors the character’s perspective, who I might add, is cleverly illustrated a la a fusion between Tim Burton and Polygon the Pokemon. It is quite beautiful at times and adds to the minimalism of the game’s plot, mechanics, and length. The game can be completed in a satisfyingly casual 3-4 hours. The mechanics can be picked up instantly. And the plot is fairly blank and transparent for you to fill in yourself. And the music is hauntingly direct and straightforward, as are the environmental sound effects of wind and rain which pick up towards the end in a symphonic conclusion.
I hope you enjoy it.
– Roberto ロ
Reviewed by Roberto. Game provided by Ultimate Games.