Based out of Los Angeles, Night Light Interactive is a small collection of designers and developers that have come together to create a haunting debut fitting of the studio’s name. Touted as a “Horror/Puzzler”, Whispering Willows is a beautifully drawn, hauntingly scored title that’s more interactive novel than video game. The story and visuals will draw you in and carry you to the end, but the gameplay within is a spotty chore at best.
The premise revolves around protagonist Elena as she tours the Willows Estate that is now strangely soaked in an ethereal presence. There, she seeks her father who has mysteriously vanished. Aiding her in her journey is a amulet she inherited from her father that allows her to astral project and communicate with the dead.
The Willows Estate, owned by the late Wortham Willows, is a vibrant set piece with a lot of personality and this is reflected in the core gameplay. While controlling Elena and her astral projection, players focus on the collecting various notes scattered about the grounds and piecing together conversations with ghosts in order to unravel the painful history of the estate and its inhabitants. The puzzles revolve around putting the troubled spirits you encounter to rest so that you may advance to the next area, one example having you broker peace between the ghost of a little girl and the spirit of the man that killed her. The bits of information you collect oft are your means of unraveling whatever puzzle you’re currently engaged in, although many of them aren’t too difficult to figure out via common sense.
The puzzles themselves, varying from moving your spirit into hard to reach areas all the way to positioning statues correctly, aren’t very challenging and can feel like a chore at times. The barriers to progress aren’t cleverly implemented very often, simply turning into get item A to unlock B. Regardless of this, the visuals and story will keep you entertained enough to continue.
If asked what jumps out most when playing Willows, most would definitely say the incredible art style. The colors are vivid, the animation is top notch (except the extremely basic death animation), and the backgrounds are quite detailed. The colors are very rich and there will be many times you’ll get drawn into the nuances of each room you travel through. You can even tell the artists had a good time crafting the maimed spirits you encounter in your journey. These things are only enhanced with great sound design.
There aren’t too many moving pieces in the environment, but the sound effects set a very creepy atmosphere and give the impression that you are certainly not alone. Subtle touches like whispering voices when you near a spirit also do wonders for immersion. Whispering Willows is not a long game (can finish in about 4-5 hours) and, in a smart design choice, the developers only use some of their visual tricks once. This makes those specific moments that much more memorable in the end.
Courtesy of the rich history of the estate, Whispering Willows is an entertaining journey from beginning to end. The final chapter is the definition of cliche, but the culmination of all the narrative threads you pick up on in the first 3 chapters fall into place beautifully in the 4th. The final moments are also hindered by the cut scenes that lack the pop of the rest of the game’s art.
Ultimately, Whispering Willows is a solid play mostly on the strength of it’s art and narrative. If those things appeal to you, give it a shot and hopefully Night Light Interactive will build upon their strengths in their next release.
This review of Whispering Willows is based on a PC code provided by Night Light Interactive.