Growing up, I liked stories with magical forests and creatures. Grimm's tales, The Hobbit, Winnie-the-Pooh, My Neighbor Totoro, and even Bambi, to name a few. No matter how dangerous a magical forest may be, it always seemed like a fun place to explore, even with all the crazy shit you might come across. But, since magic forests do not exist in reality, I had to imagine myself wandering through them.
Video games, however, have made visiting a magic forest easier than ever. Ori and the Blind Forest, The Witcher 3, and almost any game in the Zelda series feature forests that are filled with mysterious creatures, spirits, and treasures hidden among the trees.
Newly added to this collection is a title from Moonlight Kids and Humble Games, recently released for Switch (and a few months earlier for other platforms). The Wild at Heart is not only an immersive game that transports you to a magical wood but also tells you an unexpectedly satisfying story.
As with many magical-wood tales, this one starts with a troubled kid, a don't-look-for-me note, and a wrong turn.
In The Wild at Heart, two teenagers, Wake and Kirby, come up with a plan to escape the hardships in their homes and build a treehouse somewhere in the wilderness.
You begin the game as Wake on a rainy autumn day around 15:00. It's time to enact "The Plan" and meet Kirby in the forest. But soon, Wake finds himself completely lost, unsure of where to go next or how to find Kirby.
Disheartened, Wake spots a tiny, mysterious creature who invites him deeper into the woods in the best tradition of "follow the rabbit" plot twists.
And at this moment, the real adventure begins.
The Wild at Heart is a game that could probably be best described as a seek-and-fight adventure with puzzle elements and incremental map discovery. The deeper you venture into the woods, the more artifacts you find and the more creatures you meet on your way.
Spritelings of all kinds, for example, are meant to be the minions that collect items for you and help you fight monsters. As fighters, however, Spritelings do not fare well, die easily, and do best only when in multiples. So finding eggs to hatch more of these cute and adorable creatures is one of the most basic elements of the game mechanics. This is because some of the map areas could only be accessed with the help of dozens of Spritelings.
Most of the other creatures you'd encounter in The Wild at Heart are hostile. They prevent you from reaching your objective in every possible way, by biting you, chasing you, attacking you with poisonous gas, or throwing heavy stones at you. Most of the attacks can be countered by throwing all of the Spritelings you have at the enemy. However, some dangerous monsters can easily take away a lot of lives and are still not willing to die. This is especially true with creatures that can be battled only by specific kinds of Spritelings, who may die before finishing the job. In this case, you would need either to reload the game or go back to the camp to hatch more little fighters.
One of the most terrifying enemies you'll encounter in the game is known as The Never. A nastily malicious entity appears at random places on your way after dusk. You get real chills when you see it, and your characters can actually die, sending you back to the last saved moment. You cannot fight The Never until a certain point in the game. Therefore, it is always a wise idea to go back to the camp and sleep until the morning.
The beauty of The Wild at Heart is that it tells the story of a magical forest, giving you a glimpse into the history of why things are the way they are and what needs to be changed.
The subplots of Wake and Kirby, woven into the main plot, contribute to the emotional depth of the story. With a satisfying end cutscene, the storylines of Deep Woods and the kids are merged into a single compelling narrative.
The Wild at Heart has another great feature: it does not create a sense of urgency that you may feel in other adventure games. With beautiful artwork and a peaceful soundtrack, playing the game feels like visiting a therapeutic modern art museum (is there such a thing?) or taking part in an art meditation session.
Most of the puzzles you must solve are not too difficult, but they may require a multi-step approach. As an example, you might switch between Wake and Kirby, or use Spritelings to reach for items or throw them at switches. You might also repeat the cycle multiple times before figuring out the right order. Due to this, The Wild at Heart takes between fifteen and twenty hours to complete, but it could easily take longer if you follow all the subquests.
The Wild at Heart has its downsides, especially when it comes to Spritelings. They are notoriously inept at fighting and sometimes just stand next to an enemy, taking hits without fighting back (and dying in the process). So always have a sufficient supply of these cute creatures before you start fighting anything dangerous.
The game-saving mechanics are also not obvious, as you might reappear in the wrong place with fewer resources than you expected. So make sure you always save the game in the camp before moving to the next battle or level.
Despite the minor drawbacks and sometimes tedious puzzles, The Wild at Heart is the perfect game to escape reality for a while and relax on a cold winter evening. And you don't even have to enact "The Plan" or get lost in the forest to do that.
Just don't forget to brew yourself a warm cup of tea before playing the game. Trust me, you’ll love it.