Xbox Live Arcade Review: Wik - Fable of Souls

It takes guts to try and do something as blatantly different as Wik. To go against the standard gaming grain, especially making a design around one that completely restricts the characters movement, is flat out risky. With the right design though, it can come together, and Wik does marvelously.

The creepy little lead character, obviously called Wik, has a handicap: he can't walk. His only methods of movement include jumping or swinging about with his stretchy tongue. It's a rough adjustment at first and definitely restrictive. That's the idea though, and for games to keep moving forward, it's things like this that need to be embraced with patience.

Doing so lets the player enjoy a wild game that requires practice and skill. While early levels seem straightforward and too simple to keep the game moving, the various challenges mix things up. Wik can die easily, and if jumping around and spitting (Wik's only defense) is your strategy, you're in for a long experience. Sucking in bugs to use as a weapon makes things easy enough to grip you in the opening levels. Later, it can be deadly as radioactive bugs ensure you're paying attention.

Stages are occasionally recycled, though usually bringing with them the new challenges offered in previous ones. Levels typically involve multiple platforms and black-eyed critters that need to be fed to the creature at the bottom. If he moves off screen before he's full, it's game over. The only way to slow him down is to feed him, either with the appropriate number of bugs or honey sticking around randomly in the levels. This adds another difficulty element to go along with the various live hazards.

It ensures the players explore the single-screen stages. Waiting for the needed insects to come to you won't work. In this Oddworld-like environment (there's definitely some influence here), all the weight is on the player, whether in the story or challenge modes. Each offers a unique set of stage clearing requirements, and completing everything could take months.

While it is difficult, it's also accessible. By throwing out much of what has made video games video games over the years, everyone is back to the beginning, forced to learn a new style of gameplay. With practice, anyone can pull off some fantastic moves that will make them look like pros, and playing long enough to become that good isn't a problem.

Wik isn't without problems though. The physics of swinging around with your tongue take quite some time to grasp, and never really feel natural. Sprites are small, and while they're superbly animated, it's occasionally hard to see them against darker backgrounds, or they're hard to identify. The superb targeting makes sure you know what enemy you're about to suck in or shoot, but knowing the species is a little difficult from a gameplay standpoint.

Aside from minor gripes, Wik is a success, and the type of game that we need more often than not. It's daring, original, and most importantly, superb fun. It's not a game to like simply because it provides something new. It's one to like because it takes that something new and turns it into something entertaining.

(**** out of *****)

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