Adventure Gamers Awards
The voice acting is less consistent in quality. Most of it is perfectly fine, but some characters, particularly Sadwick himself, start off sounding grating, though they’ll grow on you as the game progresses. At first I winced at Sadwick’s delivery, but eventually his lisp and stilted way with words became an inextricable part of his personality. The other characters are amusing and well-acted, though few are terribly memorable, most of them showing up mainly to prime players about the next few puzzles you’re going to have to solve. Still, the conversations are usually engaging, such as Sadwick’s discussion with a groundskeeper with a propensity for yelling at the top of his lungs, or a chat with a couple of rocks (yes, rocks) who are hatching a plot to enslave the world. The supporting cast may be more functional vehicles for puzzle clues and jokes than fleshed-out, intriguing characters, but the writing is entertaining enough that conversations never feel like a chore.
One reason these interactions don’t make the lasting impression they could have lies in the translation from the original German, which can be spotty at times. The dialogue is never unclear or nonsensical and isn’t a hurdle to the enjoyment of the game, yet its foreign origins are clearly apparent with lines like “Oh, Sadwick, I’ve heard enough of your phantasms,” or “I don’t think I could pick him up” (after trying to lift an inanimate object). This applies to the game’s humor as well, as many lines that rely on wordplay and quirky wit don’t quite hit the mark, instead tending to elicit an “I wonder if it was funnier in German” reaction. Fortunately, this mostly affects minor players, who rely more on jokey writing than the major characters. The Whispered World is not primarily a comedy anyway, so it doesn’t hurt the experience as much as you might think, and there are still several very funny moments throughout. Sight gags needs no translation—seeing Spot launch through the air from a makeshift sock-catapult never fails to tickle the funny bone.
One aspect of the writing that does stand out is the abundance of one-off comments Sadwick makes when you try to combine random objects. Daedalic (correctly) predicted the common puzzle-solving tactic of “use everything on everything” and has provided a more diverse set of responses than most adventures. I was consistently surprised when Sadwick acknowledged how stupid it was to combine two completely random items with a brand new quip.
The more he speaks, the more Sadwick’s personality comes through loud and clear as one of the more unique player characters in recent history. His constant despondency makes him the polar opposite of, say, the eternally chipper Guybrush Threepwood. Sadwick is the kind of character who doesn’t stop at telling you an item is too heavy to carry—he makes sure to add “Besides, I already feel the weight of the world on my back.” When peering into a deep chasm, he observes “A deep black abyss. Like my hope for the future.” At first I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret these kinds of comments—were they serious? Darkly comic? Eventually I found that Sadwick’s darker moments manage to be both hilarious and tragic. His unique blend of eager innocence and beleaguered cynicism seems contradictory but somehow works. He’s the most important character in the game, of course, and by far the most endearing and successful.
The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who’s played a traditional adventure from the mid-‘90s. Specifically, The Whispered World utilizes the “action coin” interface. Holding the left mouse button brings up a small display of possible actions (examine, speak to, and interact with), while right-clicking brings up the inventory. The game is heavily skewed toward inventory puzzles, which are very clever and satisfying apart from a few exceptions. Most of the time, the designers have done an excellent job of preparing the player, making sure that goals are clear as they guide you toward the correct solution. There were a few puzzles that left me scratching my head until after I had stumbled across what seemed an irrational solution, but these were in the minority. The bulk of the puzzles are very well done, with a few even reaching the brilliant, zany heights of the genre’s heyday. One sequence in particular, in which the player assumes control of Sadwick’s pet Spot, stands out as an example of clever, efficient puzzle design, managing to construct a satisfying and funny array of obstacles and solutions from a single “item” (that is, Spot).
In fact, Spot stands out as one of the best parts of the game. The one major addition to the standard point-and-click template that The Whispered World includes is Spot himself, who is far more than simply a cute sidekick. Interacting with Spot allows you to combine him with hotspots in the environment like you would an inventory item. Even better, Spot can morph between five distinct forms at will. At the beginning of the game, Spot can only transform from his regular form to a bloated, weighty “round” shape. Eventually he’ll gain more variations, including a flattened, paper-thin form and my personal favorite, one that engulfs him in a blaze of fire. These transformations are used in consistently clever and hilarious ways, and often a combination of forms in succession is required to solve a puzzle. I was thrilled every time a new obstacle called for me to use Spot (which happens several times per chapter), as I knew it would be a good one.
All of this is woven into a story with far more heft than you might first imagine. For quite a while the plot seems little more than a light, rather generic fantasy adventure, but by the end it proves to be something special. I’ll purposely remain vague, but allow me to say that I might have gotten some dust in my eyes as I finished the game, and afterward I found myself thinking about Sadwick and his character arc as he changes subtly from a sad clown with no hope to a … well, you’ll see. For a game that could have so easily ended on a clichéd, superficial note, The Whispered World takes a risk, and, at least for me, succeeded far beyond my initial expectations.
Even for those as cynical as Sadwick, The Whispered World is a game that will charm you. It simply will. It’s not perfect—the dialogue is rougher around the edges than I’d like, there are a scattered few instances of head-scratchingly irrational puzzles, and the story takes a while to get going—but it more than makes up for its minor weaknesses with astonishing artistry (both visual and aural), a uniquely endearing main character, and clever puzzles that lead to one of the gutsier and more emotional endings I’ve come across in a while. It will even take you a very reasonable 12-15 hours to get there (depending on how much you struggle with the puzzles, of course). Better still, it’s suitable for just about everyone. This is a game that can be enjoyed by children, but is equally adept at speaking to adults about a childhood we only now perceive clearly. It got to me, and I think it will get to you, so do yourself a favor and visit The Whispered World for yourselves.
What our readers think of The Whispered World
Posted by sneakybehave on Mar 19, 2018
Solid in all areas except the puzzles
Two complaints: This game was released in 2009 but some of it's puzzles have got 90's moon logic written all over them. Voice-over lines cut off mid sentence skipping to the next line. Developers say it's a problem with the engine that can't be fixed....
Posted by thorn969 on Nov 18, 2014
Not a bad little adventure
I, as others, occasionally found the puzzles a bit too obtuse and item combinations occasionally random, but I think my biggest objections to the game were... well... I think it was rather short and I felt the ending was cheap. An overused twist ending that...