Wednesday, May 16

Review: Yonder - The Cloud Catcher Chronicles [Nintendo Switch eShop]


One of the aspects of Breath of the Wild that sucked me in the most was the thrill and joy of discovery. Moving in the direction of your main quest it was inevitable that you’d spy some detail on the periphery and, more often than not, I found checking out that distraction to be irresistible. Moving in a similar direction there are game like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, where the pressure of combat is generally replaced by serene and calming activities like cultivating your farm, fishing, or planting trees. You’d think if there were a way to combine these facets of gameplay into a new experience it could be quite compelling… and it has come to Switch in the form of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.


After becoming stranded by a shipwreck on an island, and with no signs of your crew, you’ll begin your experience by simply trying to venture out and get your bearings. Almost immediately the developers cleverly give you a beautiful panoramic view reminiscent of Link’s first look at the world around him, and it is just the first of many gorgeous views you’ll see over the course of the game. With the island split into a number of zones, each with their own distinct ecological features from woods, to fields, to desert, to snow, you’ll find that there’s quite a lot of ground to cover and that there are an abundance of routes interconnecting areas that continued to surprise me late into the game. Initially there are barriers in the form of Murk or spans that need a bridge built to cross, but once you get rolling it is amazing how big the world feels and yet there are generally ways to get from one side of the world to the other with some efficiency whether through special portals, sage stones, going to one of your farms, or just plain taking a few minutes to walk your way around.


Certainly over the course of your adventure you can expect to do quite a bit of crossing back and forth in order to complete the many quests that will help you discover new places, gain new abilities through joining the game’s many guilds, and finding elements for crafting. It doesn’t take very long before you’ll be free to wander and discover to your heart’s content, ignoring your quests and finding your own path. Since the game has no combat there are no threats out there waiting to take advantage of your low level, slaughtering you for your arrogance. While you’ll hit some barriers in the form of Murk you’ll be unable to clear until you discover more sprites (mystical beings you can find somewhat randomly or gain through completing quests) Yonder is very much a game all about you discovering everything for yourself in your own time. If you want to spend some time just trying out the great active fishing mini game, befriending animals to come to one of your farms, or try to craft yourself a sweet set of duds you’re generally free to do so, and it is a great and relaxing feeling when you can simply indulge yourself for a while without the game making direct demands on you.


There are some downsides to having so much freedom certainly, though the degree to which this will affect your enjoyment will vary from person to person. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a game where you could simply wander aimlessly, start some farms, and try to be sure to plant a tree in every spot that could use one in the world the game’s main storyline isn’t terribly interesting or original. If you’re hoping for a moving plot with a poignant ending of some kind you’re likely to be quite disappointed. Philosophically I think part of the point of the game, much like something like Stardew Valley, is that they want you discovering and making the game into your own story, whatever that may be. Sure, that could be a bit of a cop-out but this isn’t a game all about the end, in fact even when you complete the story there’s, at a minimum, a quest to join the Master guild, a “cat lady” question you almost certainly haven’t yet finished, and then the laundry list of quests you hadn’t completed before going to the end. With no combat there’s no real way to die, though your character has no ability to swim and will drown if you go into the water. Thankfully, there’s really no penalty for this, you’ll just respawn closeby to continue to explore. For all of the game’s wonders there can also, at times, be some performance jitters in some seasons and areas, and pretty well every time the gave auto-saves you’ll have a slight hitch. Without combat this really has no major ill effect but it’s also hard not to notice. The final note is that the game’s economy roughly breaks (though in your favor) once you have your first farm going. When you’re growing crops you can sell at premium prices even early on you’re roughly able to buy anything you want pretty quickly, and a related issue is then that managing your generally massive inventory can then be more of a pain than it likely should be.


At the end of the day, though its story isn’t anywhere near as inspired as its well-planned and executed world, Yonder is a feast for your eyes and ears. The passive nature of the play and the beauty around almost every corner, mixed with the consistent sense of discovery, make it a very serene and relaxing way to spend quite a number of hours finding all of the game’s secrets. Unlike its peers of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley it does have a better defined point where you could very much choose to consider yourself “finished” but at the same time nothing is trying to discourage you from continuing to enjoy the experience. If you love the sense of discovery in Breath of the Wild (or other titles) and losing combat isn’t a big deal to you Yonder is absolutely worth checking out!


Score: 8.5

Pros:
  • The world feels massive but at the same time is cleverly interconnected
  • Very little strict guidance of what you need to do or in what order, leaving you to enjoy the game how you choose
  • A consistent sense of discovery and phenomenon of things consistently distracting you while you’re trying to go to a fixed destination

Cons:
  • If you’re looking for action and combat this really won’t be the game for you
  • Hitches in performance on auto-saves and in some other demanding sequence
  • An ending that isn't very satisfying, though you're allowed to continue playing from that point
  • The economy and your inventory don’t take long to be a bit of an annoyance