So Blonde: Back to the Island review

So Blonde Wii
So Blonde Wii
The Good:
  • Two playable characters covering several time periods
  • Beautiful backgrounds
  • Interesting to learn more about recurring characters' histories
The Bad:
  • Story unfolds too slowly
  • Very few puzzles and overly easy when present
  • Long distances to travel even with the map
  • Too many minigames requiring dexterity that aren't fun
Our Verdict: So Blonde: Back to the Island offers an alternate story and some enhanced gameplay, but there is not enough new content to make it very interesting for those who have already played the PC original.

Right around the time that So Blonde was released in 2008, an alternate version of the game was announced for the Nintendo Wii and DS. Not a sequel or spin-off, but a darker “what if?” scenario telling us what would have happened if Sunny had ended up at the other side of the island after falling overboard her luxury Caribbean cruise ship. Most of the English-speaking world has been waiting for news of its release ever since – so long, in fact, that after a while we barely remembered the game even existed. With the upcoming Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle throwing the spotlight back on this franchise once again, however, we belatedly discovered that the German Wii version of So Blonde: Back to the Island actually contained a complete English version all along. I was eager to return to Forgotten Island once again, only this time I discovered that maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that the game was forgotten in the first place.

While the teenaged protagonist washed up on a tropical island beach in the original game, Sunny Blonde now touches land on the opposite shore, which is a dark, desolate place occupied by evil pirates. Time has stood still here for several centuries, and the inhabitants have no idea what she is talking about when she mentions mobile phones, chargers, shopping malls or hotels. Just like in the PC original, Sunny simply thinks she's arrived at a holiday resort and everything she sees and hears is just one big plot to entertain the tourists. She refuses to leave the beach before she has the chance to touch up her make-up, involving the same catching-drops-of-water-in-half-a-coconut minigame (albeit with much nicer graphics). When she finally does leave, she meets One-Eye and his second-in-command Diablo, who promise to help her get off the island if she runs some errands for them.

It is during one of these errands that Sunny learns about a banking clerk, Nathaniel, who used to live on the island in the past, before the curse that stopped time came in effect. Suddenly, she becomes aware of a presence, and at times is actually capable of seeing some of Nathaniel's world through his eyes, although she doesn't really understand what is happening. He, in turn, is also aware of Sunny 'invading' his mind, and fears he is being possessed when he occasionally hears her voice. As the link between them is very weak, neither of the two can directly influence the other's timeline, or indeed explain what is going on. Nor can players choose between the two characters, as the game alternates between them throughout its twelve chapters.

Sunny mentally experiences everything Nathaniel does in his chapters, so she can use the knowledge of his deeds and encounters to find items he's hidden and confront people with information she couldn't possibly have obtained on her own. This makes the island natives believe she is some kind of shaman, which is crucial for convincing them to help her. Nathaniel's chapters span several time periods, so we see people like Morgane as a young girl as well as an adult woman. We also revisit the voodoo priest Chemi’n, bar owner Vasco, old wise woman Sancha, plus the triplets and their big sister and several other minor characters. It's not necessary to have played the first game though, as the story is perfectly understandable without any prior knowledge and all characters are introduced properly.

Just like before, the story is ultimately about love and coming-of-age. Unfortunately, it unfolds very slowly. Sunny just plods on, spending her days doing chores for several people on the island without any real goal until fairly close to the end, when it finally becomes apparent what Sunny actually wants to accomplish. The main story about rival island spirits and the curse that makes time on the island stand still is forced to the background most of the time. And for a 'darker' story it is still quite light and friendly. Sure, there are skeletons, evil spirits and voodoo chiefs, but Sunny is always joking about them and never really afraid of anything (she thinks it's all plastic and make-believe anyway). Given the more ominous premise, the plot could have done with more excitement and maybe a scare or two to keep things interesting.

During Nathaniel's chapters, we learn a bit more about One-Eye's past and how he became the cruel tyrannical pirate he is in So Blonde. We see him as Nathaniel's roommate when he is still 'normal' and watch him slowly turn into a nastier person and finally learn how he lost his eye and his morals. We also find out how Juan became governor and why the priest became a hermit in these flashbacks. Unfortunately, such chapters are too easy, short and shallow to be a significant addition. New characters like Nathaniel himself are never fleshed-out but remain rather colourless and bland. He's just a bit of a boring guy that tells a story that might have been interesting in a not-very-interesting way, and he's not really sharing his opinion with us so much as stating what has happened in dry facts. Max, the lovable little creature from the first game, is also playable for two very short scenes, but they don't really add anything to the game and feel out of place. Some locations are reused as well, although they are mostly shown from a different angle, which means you will recognize them but have new things to discover.

The controls are reasonably simple and mostly adequate. The game starts with a short tutorial on board the ship to get you acquainted with the interface. The Wiimote is used to move a cursor across the screen, exactly like you would a mouse, and clicking a button makes your character to walk to that spot. You can also use the nunchuck to steer Sunny directly if you prefer, but that's entirely optional. The A button lets you interact with people and objects, and the B button is used to examine. The control scheme generally works very well, but sometimes the Wiimote is a bit too sensitive and in dialogue the options can be too close to each other, making it easy to click the wrong option or accidentally end the conversation prematurely. Pressing another button opens up a menu with your inventory, a map (when available) and a quest log, along with a screen where you can save your game. It should be noted that there is only one save slot, and the game does not automatically save your progress when you quit.

Continued on the next page...


What our readers think of So Blonde: Back to the Island

No reader reviews yet... Why don't you share your review?

review

Adventure games by Wizarbox

So Blonde (Series)

So Blonde (Series) 2012

In this spin-off from So Blonde, Morgane Castillo chases the trail left by ‘famous adventurer’ Buckleberry Tanner to find the clues that will lead to the hidden treasure of Turtle Island.

» View all games in this series

Gray Matter  2011

An adventure game by Jane Jensen, creator of Gabriel Knight.