Developer: Moonlight Kids
Release Date: May 20, 2021
I’ve been vaguely interested in The Wild At Heart since I spotted it on GamePass a few months ago, but puzzle adventure games are so hit and miss for me, I kept putting it off. As of a few days ago, it’s no longer available through GamePass. Fortunately for me, it’s still playable through Humble Trove, and because of where I had it scheduled and when it was set to go off of GamePass, that’s the version I ended up playing.
It took me just under 9 hours to complete the storyline on the easier of the two difficulties, and I knew before I was through my first hour of game play that I was going to want to see this one through to the end credits. While I feel like the Wanderer difficulty better fit my play style, I also feel like in some ways, I missed out on some of the experience, but I’m getting ahead of myself a bit here.
You begin the game as Wake, a boy who had made plans with his best friend Kirby to run away from home together, and manages to get so lost, he ends up in what feels like another world. The Deep Woods is the home of the Greenshields, and their companions, the Spritelings, who protect the world at large from the dark forces of the Nether. When you arrive, most of the Greenshields are missing and things are in disarray after the loss of The Green Witch. You’re asked to lend a hand, adventuring with the Spritelings, who seem to be fond of you, and you start exploring, using both your new friends and your trusty backpack vacuum to overcome obstacles in your path.
There’s very little in the Deep Woods that you can interact with directly – most tasks need to be performed by sending out your Spritelings. Initially, you only have Twiglings, who help by destroying toxic mushrooms, reinvigorating plant life, and carrying large objects back to where they belong. As you progress through the story, you will meet four other variety of Spritelings, all of whom are suited for different sorts of tasks, so you’ll want to make sure you keep a good assortment with you at all times.
Once you get a bit into the story, your friend Kirby manages to join you, and then you will control both characters. By default, Wake, Kirby and the Spritelings all move together, but you can (and will need to) occasionally separate them. Kirby is smaller, and can squeeze through logs to get to previously inaccessible areas, and she soon acquires a special lantern, which, like Wake’s Gustbuster, can draw things in close to her. This ability is critical not only for quickly picking up piles of resources, but for herding up wayward Spritelings.
Once you unlock the hub area, you’ll be able to repair some structures, which unlock some upgrade paths & additional game play elements. While playing on the Wanderer difficulty, most of this felt irrelevant throughout the majority of the game, and I admit that I mostly skipped over all of it. Sure, I picked things up and threw them in my stash, but I didn’t feel like I needed to grind resources to upgrade my health – unless I stayed out after dark, I very rarely took damage, and if I stayed out after dark, it was unlikely that another pip (or even two) of health was going to make the difference.
Making sure to get to camp once the sun sets is critical – once it’s dark, the denizens of the Never come out, and your only real recourse is to find a light source. Monsters you encounter during the day time can be dealt with by your Spriteling army, but you’re not meant to fight the forces of the Never, only to avoid them for the majority of the game. Playing the game on the Wanderer difficulty also meant that combat really didn’t feel like a big focus – throw the right Spritelings on the monsters, and they were vanquished fairly quickly. Because of this, the very end of the game was a bit of a culture-shock, and making sure I had an adequate supply of health restoration items was critical for the first time in the entire game.
Still, I enjoyed the story and the game play of The Wild At Heart, and the pacing felt really good – every time I really understood how it all worked, a new element was added, almost right until the very end of the game. I will admit to consulting a walkthrough a time or two, but usually it was due to my poor navigational skills rather than particularly obtuse puzzles – I struggled with finding things, not with figuring out what I needed to do once I arrived.
Overall, it’s a beautiful game with lovely music, and interesting story, and puzzles that will make you think, but that for the most part, aren’t likely to frustrate. Post-credits, you can go back into your save file and do completionist things if that suits you – what feels like a point of no return will roll the credits once you’re past it, but doesn’t stop you from finishing up anything you missed.
SteamDB estimates that The Wild At Heart has sold somewhere between 4,700 and 13,000 copies on Steam. While those aren’t stellar sales numbers, subscription service availability and low replay value have probably lowered sales a bit, and as a Humble Games published title, it’s a good candidate for eventual inclusion in Humble Choice. However, reviews overall have been favorable, and it is ranked 342 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.