Wander, a game published by BlueTwelve Studio, asks the player to navigate their way through a world without humans that is still dense with the things they left behind: robots that perform mechanical simulacra of human life, a society stratified along geographic and class lines, evidence of ecological ruin. You know, the classics. New here is the playable character: you are a little kitty cat.
You may have met most of the WanderThe theme and interactivity of Beats before, in dozens of works of popular culture, through several forms. The game’s story arc reminded me Abzu‘s. As blade runner, it is about the relative humanity of robots. The environment borrows heavily from demolition Kowloon Walled City. It plays like a stripped down version of a Unexplored Game, or as one reviewer noted, a Valve game. You move your cat into position to press a button just to jump. From time to time you have to run away from enemies, which exist but are not the main focus.
Wander mostly involves spending about five hours of gameplay being a sweet orange cat, who meows, scratches furniture, and curls up into a little ball and naps like a baby angel. A button on the controller is dedicated to letting you meow whenever you want. There is a variety: groans, meows, yelps, moans and coos. The voice of the cat, Lala, does a great job. The developers have gone for feline verisimilitude, and the clearest sign of their success is the game apparent popularity among real cats.
Although I sometimes found myself wanting more Wander– stealth sequences can feel disappointing – the revolutionary part of the game is that you play as a cat. Whether or not that’s enough to support an otherwise limited game is up to the player, but for me it was. Feline locomotion is fascinating. Cats seem to weave, jump and contort as if the rules of gravity don’t always apply to them. It’s fun to move like Wanderthe feline protagonist of , making seemingly impossible leaps and squeezing through tight spaces.
The two longest of the game’s 12 chapters release the cat-player into densely populated urban areas and send them on a series of fetch quests. The quests themselves are completely forgettable, but the intention is to let the player explore the environment. It’s oddly liberating to inhabit a video game world made for creatures far larger than you. The cat can break all its rules, climb seemingly forbidden surfaces and desecrate any semblance of architectural propriety. Why shouldn’t I knock over that pile of paint cans, then pop through a secret window in the laundromat to steal some stuff? That’s what any cat would do.
At the beginning of Wander, the cat protagonist lives in an ambiguous abandoned structure, having fun and doing cat stuff with a few buddies. The action of the game kicks off when the cat-player misses a routine jump and falls into a deep black hole, ending up in an underground city isolated from the outside world (whatever that still means after an unspecific apocalypse). The goal is to return to this outside world. The cat-player gets help from a flying robot named B12 that acts as a translator and Swiss army knife when you team up with a series of human-sized robots called Companions. As you leave the City Safe Zones, you are pursued by hordes of a demonic, vaguely rodential creature called Zurk. The mysteries unfold as you climb higher. In addition to perfecting the chat design, Wanderher greatest strength is her beauty. There are no on-screen health bars or resource meters, just a little buddy.
During the game Wander, I spent a pleasant half-hour weaving my way through a handful of houses in the city’s slums aimlessly, admiring the fine attention to detail in the environments that were incidental to the game’s central story. The glow of the neon lights contrasts nicely with the dank claustrophobia of the cityscapes. You can smell the vestiges of human life left in the cities. As you leave the area for brief forays into enemy-filled areas, the alien architecture feels appropriate. Dirt, trash, and brick give way to something that feels more alive. At some point in your journey through a hostile area, you come across a monstrous wall of eyes, connected to other eyes by a gargantuan web of meat. It clearly has something to do with the enemies of the horde, and its scale is particularly disturbing. But you don’t face it. There’s no final showdown with the network boss, or anything else, because that wouldn’t be thematically consistent. Cats are stealth animals, not brawlers.
The game’s perfect chat and rich texture make up for what is admittedly pretty thin gameplay. There are a few puzzle sequences, none of them difficult or new. You get something that looks like a gun for a few sequences, but there’s nothing remarkable about it either. Gameplay shifts from action to stealth in the second half, and it’s just as simple. The interactivity of Wander it sometimes feels like it gets in the way of the true strengths of the game, especially when exploration is interrupted by video game tasks: fetching an item, trading it for another item, asking an NPC to transform it into another item, then give the processed item to another NPC who can repair a different item to allow you to advance in the game.
Quests never drag on long enough to get boring, and Wander became an unlikely success because he really nails the things that set him apart from all the works he’s so much like. He has the good sense not to overstep his bounds. If this all sounds a little inconsequential or cute, well, it is. Sometimes it’s fun to play as a little cat that runs and meows.