Review: Whispering Willows (Wii U)

Who knew Resident Evil without the zombies would be a good thing?

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 11/16/2015 09:00 1 Comment     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Strong Narrative; Gorgeous Visuals; Atmospheric Audio
Poison Mushroom for...
Long load times; Desperately needs a map

Games that are truly scary tend to be few and far between. The direction of the survival horror genre has moved toward a more action-oriented focus over the last console generation or two. Rather than avoiding things that go bump in the night, most horror titles now task players with mowing down hordes of zombies with submachine guns. As a result, a game like Whispering Willows comes as a real surprise. The eShop title delivers an experience on Wii U that’s scary in a way that’s truly become rare, as of late.

Whispering Willows follows Elena Elkhorn as she tries to find her father, a maintenance worker who has disappeared while working on the grounds of an old mansion. While exploring the mansion, Elena discovers that the amulet she wears around her neck allows her to astrally leave her body to explore areas that would be otherwise unreachable, and also communicate with the dead. Elena’s conversations with the mansion’s ghosts help drive the story of Whispering Willows as she helps them solve mysteries, and find some peace in the afterlife. Diary entries left behind by the mansion’s former inhabitants help fill in the rest of the blanks, working both as clues, and as a device to push along the game’s narrative.

Between the haunted mansion and the left behind diary entries, Whispering Willows has a bit in common with the original Resident Evil. That particular title also used cut scenes and zombies to scare players, but Whispering Willows manages to create an unnerving experience with less of a focus on those survival horror mainstays. Cut scenes in the game are few and far between, and enemies as well, leaving the game’s narrative and atmosphere to do the heavy lifting. That atmosphere is accentuated by a beautiful soundtrack that perfectly fits the game’s tone. The game’s diary entries also contribute, painting a vivid picture of the darker side of American colonialism, and the treatment of Native Americans. Native Americans have often been used as fodder for horror movie villains, but in Whispering Willows, they’re the victims of the game’s main antagonist, and as we learn more about the cast, we start caring about them more, as well.

The game’s gorgeous 2D, hand drawn visuals are also a highlight as players traverse the grounds of the mansion, but the focus on exploration and narrative might turn off players looking for something with a little more action. Whispering Willows doesn’t feature any sort of combat system, and enemies appear a bit infrequently. Occasionally, Elena will be grabbed by the arms of a tree, or chased by the mysterious rat-like creatures that inhabit the mansion. Because these attacks come so infrequently, it works as a neat little scare tactic, as you’re lulled into a false sense of security, but the attacks do little more than make the player repeat their attempt to cross that particular section.

While Whispering Willows is a good game, it’s held back by a pair of frustrating features. First of all, the game desperately needs a map. With as much backtracking as the game requires, a map on the GamePad would have been very helpful. The load times can be equally irritating. Every time a door opens, a loading screen comes up. Most of the time, this is a minor distraction, especially in a bigger area, but when you couple it with the lack of a map, it becomes much more problematic. These two issues can really make backtracking and exploration a much bigger chore. There’s one particular point where there’s a garden maze that requires the player to enter and exit multiple pathways. Enter a pathway, encounter a load screen, find out that the area is a dead end. Repeat. It’s very frustrating, and it made getting lost a headache.

The negatives never hurt Whispering Willows enough to outshine the positives. The title is a perfect match for gamers looking for the kind of survival horror title that the genre was founded on. The game might not offer the same kind of jump scares as titles like Resident Evil, but with a story inspired by the real-life cruelty of history, Whispering Willows might actually be scarier.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

One Response to “Review: Whispering Willows (Wii U)”

  • 0 points

    Thanks for the review. I thought this looked interesting, but wasn’t sure I should get it. I might wait for a sale though. Too bad about no map, and I’m assuming when playing on a tv there is still no map on the gamepad. I tend to play most of my games on the gamepad rather than the tv, because usually I’m in bed by the time I can relax. Maybe I’ll just try Year Walk instead, though I’ve heard it’s rather short for the price.

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