Be sure to leave no totem behind in this big Zelda-like adventure.
The very structure of World to the West emphasizes the ambition of this sophomore effort from Teslagrad developers Rain Games. The expansive world resembles that of a 2D Zelda and the chapter-based structure in which heroes and settings are introduced slowly but surely helps build up the world and the importance of the four heroes joining forces. The top-down action game is filled with clever puzzles and enjoyable challenges, but a few issues hamper the experience from becoming a Nindie classic.
The basic gameplay involves solving puzzles in a large world as one of four different characters. Each one feels unique, complete with their own attacks and traversal methods that unlock over the first half of the game. Lumina the Teslamancer can teleport and shoot electricity. Teri the Mindbender can control enemies and crack a whip-like scarf. Knaus is a tiny lad who can dig holes, crawl in tight spaces, and ice skate. Lord Clonington is a big strongman who can pummel foes and climb walls. At the beginning, you can only control the characters alone or in pairs. It isn’t until roughly halfway through that you can control all four at once, but since switching between characters can slow the pace down dramatically, that might be for the best.
While the world is intricately designed to have secrets that test each of the character’s abilities in a number of ways, switching between characters can be overly laborious. You can only switch when at checkpoint/warp totems, but even when you’re there, you might not be able to switch to that character at that totem. Instead, you’ll warp to whatever totem you last left that hero. Making it worse, each character has to visit every totem in order to warp there. Big chunks of my playtime were spent ferrying the heroes from point A to point B so that way they could all reach different checkpoints and areas. That kind of repeated travel can be a good way to make sure no stone is left unturned with each character, but when you’re going through the same grassy area for the fourth time, it gets old. Some puzzles would be cheapened and nonexistent if you could simply switch characters at any time, but the way it is implemented into World to the West slows the sometimes enjoyable pace down to a standstill.
That sets up World to the West to be more effective in its linear segments than its second-half open-world moments. The character-switching irritants are small potatoes when on focused paths with only one or two heroes. Everything becomes a little more convoluted when juggling between all four, especially when you could have them spread out all over the world map in your travails. The bright spots of the portions when you have all four available are when you’re in closer quarters, like the dungeons in the late game, and the puzzles are more condensed and clear. It’s when seeking unlockables or journeying through the sizable map that the separation of the characters becomes more trying.
The exploration woes are especially the pits because the puzzles spread out through World to the West are good and novel, making fine use of the combination of different abilities in unique ways. They are at war with the monotony of seeing the same locales four times over. The fact that I got tired of wandering this expressive and elegant world truly highlights the problems. The art, even if mired by repetition, is gorgeous, evoking a classical hand-drawn cartoon aesthetic even in its 3D design that runs totally fine on Switch.
While I’m ultimately coming away from World to the West more disappointed than I expected, I admire the expanse and ambition. It’s a gorgeous game with some delightful, puzzling moments. This is still a cool game, just one with some flaws that hold it back from being exemplary.