Relatively new to the scene, 5 Lives Studios has only one other game under their belt, a futuristic cyberpunk type game called Satellite Reign. Now they’re trying their hands at a survival game with Windbound. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Zelda: Wind Waker. The game sports a very cartoony graphics style, but whenever you’re immediately compared to a Zelda title it’s a pretty tall order to live up to.
The game begins with Kara sailing with her people through a storm. Low and behold she gets shipwrecked and wakes up on an island, seemingly in the eye of the storm. The only thing she has to help her survive is a small dagger. It turns out this comes in quite handy since she can use it to harvest items, which in turn can be used to craft equipment. Eventually you’ll be able to scrounge up enough stuff to build a small boat and explore the other islands in the vicinity. Little is known about these strange lands, or indeed even Kara herself. There is no one to talk to as you explore and the only dialog seems to be in Kara’s head at certain points throughout the adventure.
Windbound is divided up into chapters with each one taking place on a different set of islands. Each chain of islands has three towers that Kara must activate in order to progress the story. At each activation, and in between chapters, more plot is revealed about who she is. The mysteries begin to unravel about the giant creatures that lurk about and how she managed to become shipwrecked in the first place.
As I mentioned, from the beginning this is a game about survival. Creating items is essential throughout the game and tools and weapons should be first on your to do list. Weapons do degrade the more you use them, so you’ll have to constantly be prepared by having the resources needed to craft more. Recipes are automatically learned as Kara discovers new crafting materials. For example, to craft a leather sling you must collect enough tall grass to make a rope and then gather some skin from animals and dry it on the fire to turn it into leather. Bring it all together and wham bam you’ve got yourself a leather sling.
Of course, if you’re going to be running about every which way you’ll need to take care of yourself by eating. There are two bars you need to keep an eye on: stamina and health. Attacking and running uses up temporary stamina, where the bar will drop while running and for every attack, but it gradually fills back up. As time passes your max stamina drops, and drops pretty quickly. To get max stamina back Kara needs to find food or make dishes. Plenty of vegetation can be harvested, such as berries on the bushes and mushrooms on the trees. These can be eaten as is, which is somewhat advantageous because then they don’t take up room in your inventory. Then again, if you are trying to make a recipe you’ll want to hold on the until later, but they can spoil if you leave them in storage for too long.
Thankfully the crafting system is pretty good in this game. Sometimes this can be a sticking point if it’s overly complicated or tedious. For the most part it doesn’t take too long to craft most items, unless they require fire then it can take a bit longer for them to roast or dry. To build a grass canoe, for example, takes grass rope and grass. A bamboo raft takes bamboo and grass rope.
While the system itself is good, the interface for it is confusing. Pressing RZ on the controller opens the crafting system, the window on the left has the crafting recipes and the window on the right your inventory. To switch between the two is just the RZ button, but when on the crafting window, both the L and R shoulder buttons can be used to cycle between weapons, boats, boat upgrades, etc. This can cause some confusion, especially when first starting.
Her inventory is annoyingly small at the start of the game. With the way the survival mechanism works, it really is too small. Luckily, pretty early on materials are found that can be used to make an upgrade to inventory space. Even after the first upgrade inventory space is still a bit too limiting. Even more annoying is when trying to switch back and forth between storage on the boat and storage in inventory, if both are full and Kara needs to swap items, she needs to drop something first in order to pull something out of the storage on her boat, instead of allowing her to swap items in items slots.
The fighting is extremely simple. Attacking with a spear, for example, only has one animation. It’s slow and cannot be interrupted which leaves Kara open for an attack pretty easily. Using her sling or bow is a lot easier than using melee weapons. The aiming mechanism makes sense and when you pull up your sling or your bow is pulled back the aiming reticule tightens up. Keep in mind, as weapons are used they degrade and eventually break, so Kara is constantly on the lookout for more material to make new weapons.
Sailing is peaceful, though sometimes frustrating when trying to go to a specific point. Kara can’t control the wind so when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction it can be slow going as you navigate around islands to get to your final destination. One thing the game should have done is warn players when building a raft with a sail to make sure and build a hull with it in order to keep the raft from rotating with the wind all the time. There isn’t much music in the game unless sailing or fighting, but the sailing music is near perfect for when Kara is out on the open ocean.
Windbound’s art style is gorgeous, with its cell shaded environment and creatures. The colors and models are good and no slowdown was spotted while playing the game docked. I did run into one glitch at the very beginning, during the opening animation scene the bottom half of the screen stopped rendering for about three seconds. Aside from that the game ran smoothly. Pop-up can be an issue, especially in between chapters. While between chapters, Kara is transported to a place that has blank murals. When she arrives the next mural is filled in and some story is told. Afterwards, she must sail to a portal that drops her into the next chapter. The issue with pop-up comes into play where coral reefs can show up out of nowhere and destroy your boat. If they do, you die and start back at the beginning of the chapter, or if you’re on default difficulty you’ll have to start the game back at chapter one. When this happens the load times are super long as well, so I’m fine with sticking to an easier difficulty setting.
Windbound is, at its core, not sure what it wants to be. Does it want to be a survival game? Does it want to be a Zelda game? It manages to merge both successfully in some ways, and not so well in others. The game is beautiful for its art style, and the exploration is fun, although sometimes made frustrating by the sailing parts. Players that enjoy exploration and crafting will find a decent amount of things to do here, and the mystery is intriguing. Just know going in that the game is a little confused as to what it wants to be.
- Graphics - 9/109/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 6/106/10
- Lasting Appeal - 5/105/10
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Windbound attempts to combine Zelda-like visuals and gameplay with the survival genre of gaming that has become so popular over the past decade. For the most part it works, but there are some small issues like long loading, pop-in graphics, and less than ideal UI that hold it back from greatness. Still, there’s a lot of fun to discover here!