Windbound Review: A Wonderful Seafaring Adventure That’s More Than Just a Wind Waker-Like

by David Sanchez August 28, 2020 @ 10:50 am

Windbound gameplay on PS4.

Reviewed on PlayStation 4

You wouldn’t be at fault for taking one look at Windbound and instantly making comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The fact is this game is very reminiscent of Nintendo’s classic oceanic adventure. As you play Windbound, though, you’ll notice that while there may be some Wind Waker influence present, the game is able to stand on its own thanks to the ambitious design direction of developer 5 Lives Studios.

Choose Your Own Adventure

You’re presented with two options when you start Windbound: Survivalist and Story. The base adventure is the same across both settings, but there are some notable differences. Survivalist offers a roguelike approach to the game. If you die at any point, you’ll start over from the first chapter, only retaining items you have equipped in your main inventory while losing all other items you’ve gathered along the way. Story mode, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as punishing and will simply take you back to the start of your current chapter upon dying.

The fact that Windbound gives you the option of playing how you want to is great. That said, it’s worth mentioning that a message on the game screen will point out that Survivalist is the way the game is meant to be played and how it was envisioned when being developed. Don’t let this discourage you from playing Story mode, though. If Survivalist is too frustrating for you, or you just don’t enjoy roguelikes but want a fun action-adventure experience, Story mode is a great way to play.

Windbound survival game.

To be honest, I feel that there’s merit in both Survivalist and Story modes. I enjoyed the challenging nature of Survivalist because it really upped the sense of urgency and made the adventure feel like a true life-or-death gameplay experience. That said, I found Story mode to be more my jam thanks to its steady progression and the sense of completion I got from it. Not to mention, if you’re looking for a game in the vein of Zelda, Story is the way to go.

Craft, Explore, and Don’t Forget to Eat

Windbound doesn’t waste any time with exposition. Almost immediately after you start a new game, you’re able to set out for adventure. This pick-up-and-play design choice does two things. First, it differentiates the game from similar epic-feeling adventures that like to really delve deep into lore and world-building. You get a little bit of that the further you progress, but overall, the story beats in Windbound are kept to a minimum.

Second, this quick play foundation encourages you to keep playing if you’re doing a roguelike Survivalist run. This minimalist story structure works well, and it’s obvious that a conscious decision was made to keep the game’s lore from ever feeling overbearing or long-winded. On the one hand, that’s great because you can just get to the point and play. On the other hand, the game’s tale about an ancient civilization is sort of lost in translation and feels pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Windbound fire pit crafting.

Regardless of which mode you choose, the gameplay loop of Windbound remains the same for the most part. You’ll craft a boat, hit the sea, head to nearby islands, and collect keys to unlock the next chapter. There’s even a bit of platforming, though it feels awkward and stiff at times. Thankfully, the platforming is light and the game’s more successful mechanics take center stage throughout the majority of your journey.

You have a standard health meter that drains whenever you take damage. You also have a second meter that doubles as a stamina and hunger tracker. As you explore the different islands, the stamina/hunger meter will begin to deplete. Sprinting and performing actions that drain your stamina will eventually result in protagonist Kara growing hungrier. It’s wise to refrain from holding down on the sprint button, as doing so is like a death sentence.

Along the way you’ll find berries, mushrooms, and other edible items. Small items do a good job of keeping Kara from starving, but you’ll want to craft weapons like a spear or bow to try your hand at some big game hunting. You’ll find all kinds of critters across the various procedurally generated islands in Windbound. Some are more hostile than others, so you’ll want to be well equipped when you take them on.

Windbound hunting and combat gameplay.

Combat is simple and easy to grasp. Some folks might think the action of Windbound is shallow, but I greatly enjoyed its simplistic nature. I didn’t need crazy and overly deep action — I was happy to just take a spear and jab away at enemies. I would liken the combat systems here to something like Ocarina of Time, which had functional yet basic battle actions. Even then, it’s worth pointing out that, functional as the combat may be, targeting and zeroing in on enemies can feel a bit clunky.

The crafting mechanics in Windbound are straightforward and don’t leave any room for error, though they’re not as simple as the combat. If you want to craft a new weapon, a sail for your boat, or some tools, the game won’t leave you guessing. You can see what items you need, encouraging you to scour lands and scavenge for supplies. Some items are harder to find than others, and you’ll find rarer items in the later chapters to craft better gear.

While you’ll come across a few ready-made items in Windbound, you’re pretty much crafting the majority of what you carry. Whether it’s a fire pit to cook up some meat or a shovel to dig up random stuff, you’re putting together your entire inventory yourself. As such, you’ll explore high and low for resources, all the while combating fatigue and hunger. The way the exploration, resource management, crafting, and survival gameplay elements combine works incredibly well. These mechanics feel like a callback to Breath of the Wild — they’re inviting but with a nice level of depth to keep things interesting.

Hit the High Seas

Windbound story cutscene.

You’ll do a decent amount of sailing in Windbound. If you played Wind Waker, you’ll know what to expect here. There are sections in the game that will require you to sail quite a bit, so if traveling to and from different locations isn’t your thing, you might find yourself getting restless. I never encountered that problem myself. Instead, I welcomed all the sailing and really just enjoyed the chill, calming aspect of it.

I remember playing Wind Waker and loving the sailing. Sure, those sailing sequences got longer and longer, but I loved that stuff. Wind Waker HD did away with some of that and allowed for a steadier game flow. Then I played Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that revels in having you travel from one place to the next on horseback… and I loved every single minute of it. So with that said, it’s no surprise that, for me, the sailing in Windbound was a part of the experience that I truly enjoyed.

Simply put, if you like those moments of respite in between venturing into the unknown, you’ll likely dig the sailing gameplay of Windbound. It’s simple, but it works. Sometimes the wind is working in your favor. Other times it’s working against you. This is all a part of the charm of the ocean-based gameplay the game offers.

A Charming Survival Adventure

Windbound sailing gameplay.

The art of Windbound is like a mix of Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild aesthetics. There’s a lot of bright and bold color usage throughout. Character designs are charming and cartoon-like. And the architecture and landmasses are decorated with ancient-looking art.

The game’s soundtrack isn’t massive, but there are a handful of catchy, memorable themes. The music that plays while you sail is particularly enjoyable and adds to the calming nature of riding the waves on your boat.

Comparisons to The Legend of Zelda are bound to be made when talking about Windbound. While I certainly think this title was inspired by that series, it also feels just as influenced by roguelikes such as Dead Cells and survival games like Don’t Starve. Despite those comparisons, the game is able to craft its own vibe. What you ultimately get with Windbound is a beautiful, wholesome adventure that encourages you to build a boat, set sail, and explore to your heart’s content… all the while watching your hunger meter.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

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