I See Dead People – Whispering Willows Reviewed
By Julie Morley
For the entirety of Chapters 1-3, I was on the edge of my seat. With a captivating story meshed with complicated puzzles, Whispering Willows is an absolute must play for a pleasant scare and brain teaser.
The Willows Mansion is a place of a thousand secrets and heart breaking tales. The entirety of the land it rests upon is drenched in blood and betrayal. One man, Wortham Willows is an evil man, filled with hatred and darkness. Everything seemed smooth and relatively happy among the people who’d known him so well. A happy man. A loyal friend. The town was in good hands if they were that of Wortham Willows.
Little did they realize the darkness inside of Willows. His thirst for blood and vengeance. Willows sensed anger and impurity from the near Native American tribe. Despite their claims of peacefulness, he was still skeptical. After some planning, he tricked even his best friend into slaughtering them. The massacre was horrid, taking hundreds of lives. After all these years, the spirits of the Native Americans who lost their lives still roam around the mansion grounds.
But there’s something else spiritual lingering around the mansion with darker intentions.
Now, a young groundskeeper spends the majority of his days watching over the property and maintaining its shape. Strange things are always occurring. It spirals out of control when the spirit of Wortham Willows captures him for reasons unknown. Days, if not weeks, pass and there is not a trace of him anywhere. Elena, the groundskeeper’s daughter, has a terrifying dream about her father’s whereabouts: held captive at the mansion by an evil spirit that means business.
She decides to visit the mansion and locate her father immediately. Upon arrival, she crosses paths with a frightening female spirit, causing her to fall backwards onto fragile ground. Thus rapidly descending into the mysterious catacombs resting below.
So the adventure of Whispering Willows begins.
Whispering Willows is a puzzle sidescrolling game with some horror elements in it. No, really, at certain parts I was a bit freaked out and ready to run. The entire foundation of the game is based off of Elena’s search for her father. He’s disappeared and she must explore the mansion grounds to figure out what happened. But there’s an interesting catch: the grounds are absolutely littered with interesting spirits – some helpful to the storyline, some just floating around and exchanging coats with one another.
However, normally Elena is unable to see nor make contact with them. With her amulet, she is capable of something inexplicable and extraordinary: astral projection. Somehow, the amulet grants the ability for Elena to remove herself spiritually from her physical form. This allows her to talk to other Spirits and figure out different clues to eventually discover her father’s whereabouts. More interestingly, in her spiritual form, Elena is capable of traveling through tiny cracks, manipulating switches, and possessing miscellaneous objects in rooms.
The ability to astral project is one of the main components of Whispering Willows’s gameplay. You see, in each location of the mansion, there are many puzzles and seemingly “dead ends” that in Elena’s regular from she is unable to break through. With the use of her spirit, she is capable to finishing the puzzle by moving objects blocking the way or lifting a lever to grant access to her physical form in the area of interest. To me, I thought this was a relatively unique concept that became most useful through the entirety of Whispering Willows.
Speaking of spiritual time, one of my favorite parts of Whispering Willows’s design is that of the characters, both the writing and art style of. Each spirit Elena crosses paths with is not only intriguing to learn about, but as you both speak with them and look for something special to help them along, you feel a sense of attachment to the spirit. Elena keeps a diary with her in which she not only documents any miscellaneous notes discovered on the property but she also keeps logs of her thoughts on this journey. In many of the entries, she mentions her sadness for the specific spirit passing on to the next stage.
In all honesty, I felt very much the same after each spirit progressed. The journey in Whispering Willows in terrifying and, I could imagine, emotionally stressful, so the inclusion of a Spirit friend to join you on the way is a bit comforting, despite how ghoulish and creepy they may feel. Company is company. With each spirit having their own unique story and personality, it felt as though Elena and I had found a friend for this trip of nightmares.
When the escaping souls of the dead are reaching up from the ground, desperate to yank you down into the abyss of the unknown beyond the grave, you’re awfully thankful to have a spirit chilling in your inventory, there to help you along. Now that is friendship.
The gameplay basis aside from the astral projection is that of a puzzle-based sidescroller. Throughout each section, which is divided by locations on the estate, such as gardens, catacombs, observatory, and the mansion itself, Elena (i.e. the player) must scour through each part, collecting notes, and searching for any object they can get their hands on to unlock doors or dig up needed objects. Normally, it takes me a long time to get the swing of a puzzle game since each is unique in the way they must be solved. Whispering Willows took me a little bit of time to get the swing of but thankfully it was relatively simple to understand. When I figured out the next step, it was an exciting process and I was eager to progress.
Everything had a flow to it that felt natural. Many puzzle games have this odd lock in place chain effect where you can immediately predict the following puzzle’s direction every time and it feels linear. With Whispering Willows, Nightlight Interactive designed it accordingly to give the sense of exploration and player decisions. We had the choice to, for the most part, explore to our heart’s content to determine how to progress. It felt like I, the player, was determining the story direction rather than following a grind. It was perfect for immersion. As a result, I was significantly more committed to the game.
Chapter three ended off on a major cliffhanger that left me begging for more. In total, I spent roughly three hours playing through the first three chapters and I just couldn’t break away. Whispering Willows will pull in any player and keep them hooked until the very end of gameplay. All around, it’s a well-designed and engaging game, capable of scaring your socks off at some points (you try facing that demon in the catacombs without panicking, just try it!). Personally, it was an enjoyable and memorable play through.
Chapter four of Whispering Willows will be released on June 17th for Ouya, and July 9th on Steam, possibly concluding the story. With its engaging story, creepy atmosphere, and semi-comical characters, it’s a gameplay experience like no other that I’d highly recommend to our Cliqist readers.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/julie.jpg” ]Julie Morley is a freelance writer and comic artist from Spring, Texas. She attended the Academy of Art University for two years, studying Animation and Illustration. Whilst here, she learned about writing comic scripts, storyboards, and general storytelling. Since leaving college, she has been working on personal comic projects, stories, and illustrations. She aspires to release a self published comic within two years. For the majority of her life, she has been playing console games, typically being third-person shooters and sandboxes. Her favorite game of existence is Dark Cloud II (Dark Chronicle) and her favorite Indie game is Gone Home.[/author]