I have to admit that I’m not the kind of person who usually steps out of their preferred video game genre. Despite being a game reviewer I feel like the type of titles I sink my time into tend to be pretty consistent. However, from time to time I do dabble in games I normally wouldn’t pick up on my own, and I have to say that this time around Whateverland was an experience I am glad I took the leap on.
Whateverland is developer Caligari Games’ newest point-and-click adventure game where you’re promised you can be whatever you want to be. It was initially released on September 15th, 2022 for PC and has just launched on September 19th, 2023 for the PS5/PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. The Switch version was played for this review.
Characters NOT Always Whatever
While Whateverland does have an overarching story, mainly that of getting Vincent back home after he gets sent to a strange world for angering an ancient witch, it is also filled with a bunch of mini-stories courtesy of its rather wide cast. I feel confident in saying that the cast was actually the better half of the narrative, especially because of characters like Nick (a Shakespeare knock-off who becomes Vincent’s companion after you save him from a locker at the beginning of the game), who bring a lot of humor and depth to what could otherwise feel like a very straightforward and simple premise.
Now, there’s something I want to address about Whateverland’s particular method of storytelling. While I do feel that the game’s characters carried its narrative, it was done so in an unequal manner and that was sometimes frustrating. What I mean by this is that, at the beginning of the game, Nick sort of implies that every resident of Whateverland is there because they did something the witch Beatrice didn’t like. However, you don’t find out until later that this is true to very varying degrees.
For example, some characters were really horrendous in the real world, but others didn’t really do anything besides annoy her with their bickering. This revelation felt like a bit of a letdown as it highlighted the inconsistencies between each story and made some of the character endings feel underwhelming. Perhaps what I’m talking about is more of a nitpick and not an inherently bad thing about the game, but I personally did not like how jarring it felt at times.
On the bright side, Vincent as a vessel to explore the story really shines. He comes with his own personality and is a pretty unique guy in that you can choose to let him be a caring thoughtful person (this is called the Good Boy route) or you can tap into his roots and have him be a bit more sinister (this is his Thief route). I feel like he was better off being a good guy as it gave you a chance to know the cast more, but there’s a replayability factor in having him just break into things because it changes the dynamic of the game.
I’ll end this part of the review by saying that Whateverland is truly the type of game where you have a hand in shaping the sort of experience you have. The dialogue is entertaining and can have depth if you choose to follow that route, and similarly, things can change very quickly and go sideways if you try to power through it without any regard for others. Regardless, you will enjoy the ride through the loopy world where no one can die or age, but they can find the answers to who they want to be.
Bargain, Bargain, Bargain
The best way to describe Whateverland’s gameplay is probably to call it a puzzle game on crack. What I mean is that its puzzles have puzzles, which is actually something that I really enjoyed.
To describe the game on a more logistical level, you spent most of the time traveling to the various locations across Whateverland to help out the keepers of a spell that is used to summon Beatrice. Naturally, Vincent needs those spell pages to escape, so when someone from the cast makes a demand of him in exchange for a piece of the spell, he charges off to complete their request. You are also able to simply steal the spells, but that has many consequences, not all of them good.
This is where the multiple routes come in as you get to choose which action you will take as you progress through the game.
I have to admit that I really enjoyed most of the puzzles found in Whateverland. Each minigame was fun and there were a lot of different elements presented throughout that fit the narrative. For example, there was an instance where you were supposed to progress through a maze in order to steal something from a character’s computer that you could use in the real world. While at another location you had to make your own book chapter using various elements presented on the screen in order to get one of the residents to give you an item you needed. The way the tasks dynamically changed made all the bargaining Vincent had to do way more tolerable. He himself even comments on this at some point during the story.
Now I’m not gonna overhype it and say the minigames were particularly hard or impossible to beat. In fact, they were actually quite easy. But just the fact that you aren’t doing the same thing all the time kept things exciting.
Unfortunately, the controls could sometimes feel a little clunky when you try to navigate around. This is already a pretty restricted game because of its point-and-click nature, but when you have to be more precise in your movements it becomes very noticeable how imprecise moving around is.
The clunky controls are further compounded by the fact that the game does a poor job of instructing you on what to do for each minigame. Thankfully, as I mentioned before, they aren’t super difficult so you’re able to intuitively figure most of it out on your own. However, it would definitely help if there were better gameplay instructions.
Aside from the story-related minigames, Whateverland also has a side game called Bell and Bones which you can challenge all the characters to and is actually pretty fun. It’s like playing a very strategic version of soccer where the point is to score on the other team using a variety of characters on the field.
Last but not least you have dialogue choices that determine which kind of person Vincent becomes and thus what ending you get (there are two). These are marked by a specific symbol and are presented pretty straightforwardly.
There are also some QOL things like a journal to keep track of your story progress/choices and a fast travel button to easily move between locations. Overall Whateverland’s gameplay did have some flaws but I would say that it was a mostly positive experience.
Whatever Doesn’t Work
I hate writing this part of the review because it’s where I have to highlight the BIGGEST drag of playing Whateverland. To start off positively I will say it’s a colorful and unique-looking game. I really like the artwork and the character sprites. Every cast member, from the talking crow to the twin sisters, shines through in their designs and dialogue options. It’s actually quite impressive that they all “look how they sound” and all feel very alive despite being from a different world where they can’t age or die.
The music in Whateverland doesn’t stand out as much as its artistic design but it isn’t really a huge negative to the game. It tends to fit each scenario and matches what is happening on screen, it just doesn’t particularly make a big splash. I think the most memorable beat I can think of is the one during the intro screen where Vincent and Nick go through a path that features the opening credits. Other than that I couldn’t remember any that actually wowed me.
Now to the true crux of my issue with this game. BUGS. BUGS. AND MORE BUGS. There are so many glitches and bugs in this title. I’m talking about freezing in the middle of puzzles, during boss fights, when playing minigames, when breaking into things. There’s no limit. It was actually frustrating the amount of times I had to reset my Switch. This is especially disappointing because it’s been a whole year since the PC release, so you’d think there wouldn’t be as many bugs as there are.
I truly hope there is a patch coming soon to address some of these glitches because if it wasn’t for the curated cast and variety in minigames, Whateverland would come off as a very amateur game in the way it runs.
Whatever Experience You Want
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I am really happy that I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried out this title. It has a lot of charm and I can openly admit that by the end of my playthrough, I was a fan of the protagonist, the cast, and even the villain a little bit. It’s obvious that Whateverland has a story it wants to tell and it leaves it up to you how you want to go about that experience.
I won’t lie and say everything about it is perfect. It is RIDDLED with bugs and glitches which can be extremely difficult to overlook because they happen so often. If you are a more easy-going person and have a lot of patience maybe this part won’t bother you as much as it did me. It is also very bad at explaining what you need to do and can have rather abrupt conclusions to its themes.
However, I have to say that for the price, trying this game out at least once wouldn’t be a bad decision. It has enough content to justify multiple playthroughs and the minigames are really fun. I, at least, would certainly be open to trying another Caligari Games title in the future if it’s anything like Whateverland.
Review copy provided by Caligari Games. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Caligari Games.