Jump ‘n’ Grab
The indie gaming scene has always been quite an interesting section of the industry. While many of these developers generally lack the resources that most traditional ones have at their disposal, it’s not uncommon for the games they produce to focus on elements that interest them and try to build entire games around it. This is the case for Nkidu Games’ Welkin Road.
If you’re familiar with the parkour aspects of Mirror’s Edge and the grapple beam mechanic from Metroid Prime, then you will have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this budget title currently available through Steam Early Access. Considering the nature of Early Access games, you are essentially acting as a playtester by purchasing the game. Nkidu intends to keep the community involved throughout this state of development, so this will be a look at the game in the state it is currently in. Welkin Road was released on April 13, 2016 with a purchase price of $12.99.
Cloudy With A Chance Of Sky Blocks
Welkin Road‘s setting is extremely simple in nature. This first-person game is completely set high in the sky. Nothing else is here except for the player, the sky, floating platforms, and the assortment of orbs that are strewn about each level. From an artistic standpoint, this minimalistic design choice is good for keeping the player focused on the grappling and parkour gameplay. However, while this does help with keeping the player from distraction, it is actually rather bland in presentation as a result. Bringing Mirror’s Edge back into this; it was also presented with a very minimalistic style set in a vast cityscape. The main difference here is that in Mirror’s Edge, there is more variety in the environmental design. Not that I’m expecting to see swaths of environments from a game that embraces its minimalism with open arms, but a little extra variety could have worked in its favor.
This minimalism does extend into the sound design as well. Music is completely absent throughout gameplay, save for menu music. Whooshing wind, footsteps, and electricity effects are the only thing you’ll find in this game. Not that I expect the game to take the majority of cues from other games that it is influenced from, but I found myself wanting a little more than what was already mentioned. It finds itself in the strange spot of doing too little to hold interest, rather than doing too much with the fear of losing the attention of the player. Just adding a little bit of relaxing mood music could have done wonders.
When it comes to building an effective experience around parkour, making sure every mechanic works properly is paramount to the experience. Admittedly, I do enjoy platforming in a multitude of different ways. However, not everything that is put forth here works all the time. I honestly place the majority of this at the feet of the grapple mechanic. The aforementioned “assortment of orbs” in the environment act as grapple points that player is able to swing across using what are essentially beam gloves on each hand. The grapple beam has the ability to lengthen and shorten, which does have an effect on the player’s momentum. Certain puzzles do require you to use your momentum in different directions to reach each platform, but this is where my main complaint comes into play. The game requires you not only to be within proper distance of the grappling orb, but also to be extremely precise on when you release that grapple beam you want to catch onto. This led to frequent failures, which are thankfully a slap on the wrist. Regardless, this presents some rather frustrating moments. While being skilled is fine in its own right, sometimes it should be eschewed for fluidity’s sake.
Despite the difficulties with grappling, the platforming is much more enjoyable in comparison. While it does look slightly unnatural, running and jumping work as well as they should. You are also able to crouch in midair to clear certain platforms in addition to wall running and wall jumping. Most of these work well enough and mesh decently with the level design. Sometimes said design can be a bit obtuse, but a little bit of critical thinking will get you through with what you have at your disposal.
Considering that this game is still a (mostly complete) work in progress, I’m hoping that the aforementioned gripes will be improved upon. Looking at it now, Welkin Road has a relatively decent base from which to work on. Trying to mix two mechanics like this is quite the challenge, and Nkidu seems to have a decent grasp on each concept. Being open to suggestions from the community is also going to work in their favor because of the direct feedback from the people who bought the product. This can only make it better, but I think nailing down the mechanics is going to be what shuffles this game from a good start to a great finish.
~ Final Score: 7/10 ~
Review copy provided by Nkidu Games for PC. Screenshots both taken by reviewer and provided by Nkidu Games.