It’s been a long while since I’ve played a game that really captured the essence of the N64 3D platformer, but Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth certainly brought on the nostalgic vibes. It’s no surprise really – developers Cardboard Keep had actually promoted the game as “a third-person action-adventure game inspired by the genre classics of the N64-era”, though perhaps it may have been more appropriately likened to the Gamecube’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth

Of course, the games that Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth is inspired by are genre-defining titles. It’s not easy to imitate something that had a much bigger team and a much bigger budget. To Cardboard Keep’s credit they’ve done a pretty good job with Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth, though it’s still some way off reaching the heights off those ‘classics’ before it.

Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth’s story begins with young adventurer Tavian heading through a forest area with his father, the Emperor. They get confronted and surrounded by some enemies and whilst Tavian tries to escape across a bridge it collapses beneath him, sending him downriver to a small camp lit area. Being unable to leave the area due to a large sleeping beast blocking his path, Tavian decides to rest at the campfire. Once asleep he gets transported to a strange, dream-like realm where he encounters the imprisoned Spirit God of the Forest, Nyona. Nyona pleads with Tavian for his help, making him a Warden in the process and sending him on a journey to find the other Wardens and save her from her crystal bound prison. Thus begins your journey in Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth.

It’s an interesting journey take sees you encounter a wide variety of characters. You’ll come across tribesmen, dummy knights, an odd chef – there’s a real colourful cast of characters. The Wardens themselves are great too, each offering their own unique personality that is conveyed throughout the many interactions they share throughout the game. Each Warden has their own unique dialogue too, resulting in conversations that vary depending on which character you’re controlling.

Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth

You’ll control three different characters throughout Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth – main character Tavian, the leaf caped Medeira and the flame haired Bitt. Each character has their own unique skill that you’ll need to progress through the game. Medeira for example is able to grow flowers to use as platforms, whilst Bitt is able to launch himself in the air and then use flames to glide from platform to platform. You can switch between each character on the fly, so if you have a personal favourite you’re always able to use them – because lets face it, the hot-headed Bitt is the coolest…

You won’t have all three characters available from the start though and will actually come across them as you progress through the game. There’s an open world on offer, so you’re able to tackle each level in whatever order you like. However, it won’t take long before you’re restricted by a puzzle that requires a certain character’s skill, meaning you do end up following what could be considered the ‘correct’ path. Still, the freedom on offer sent me on a bit of an adventure when I ended up exploring the completely wrong area, confused as to why I wasn’t able to progress. It may sound frustrating, but Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth features such a great world that these moments of confusion led to me exploring more of the great world on offer.

There are five main environments in the game that are each made up of smaller interconnecting areas. Each environment is full of personality and Cardboard Keep have done a great job in making them enjoyable to explore – there are no bland open areas and there’s always something you have to do, be it leaping between platforms, solving a tricky puzzle or beating up a ton of enemies. Environments actually feel alive too, with an assortment of flora and fauna giving off the feeling that each area is inhabited. There wasn’t a single area in the game which I found boring, a rare feat for any video game.

Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth

Of course, it helps that the environments are made up of great hand painted visuals. The best way to describe the graphics would be to compare it to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker – something I think the developers at Cardboard Keep would take as a compliment. Of course, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker came out in 2002 and you would probably argue that its visuals are better than Warden: Melody of the Undergrowths. It’s not really too much of a criticism though given that the visual style is ageless, especially when it’s utilised in such an effective way. Take the darkened forest you encounter at the start of the game for example – it looks awesome with its dark scaling trees, bright floating neon lights and flickering torches offering solace in the dark abandoned temple. It’s really atmospheric and shows that Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth really shines with its visual style.

The similarities to The Legend of Zelda don’t end with the visual style though. Whilst you’ll be smashing pots and slicing through grass, the combat itself will feel very familiar to fans too. You’ll lock onto enemies and carefully time your attacks whilst dodging any that are thrown your way. Each character has a special projectile attack that can be used to stun your foe too.

Unfortunately the combat of Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth feels a little clunky. There were times when hit boxes felt completely off, with my attacks missing the enemy despite seemingly connecting and vice versa. Movement itself could feel awkward too, with it being slightly too easy to get backed into a corner and stuck in a constant barrage of enemy attacks. Worst of all though was that enemies would seemingly go through the environment when hit into walls. They’d come back out again, but it was really weird to see enemies walking through the walls as if they aren’t even there. When you were in some of the game’s more open areas these problems weren’t as apparent, but there are plenty of occasions where you’ll be fighting in smaller rooms and that’s when the problems start to show.

Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth

At least there are plenty of weapons to use in the game, with each enemy dropping a weapon you’re able to pick up and use. You can carry three at a time and they come in different varieties – there are small weapons, large weapons, fast weapons, slow weapons… you get the picture. Don’t get too attached to any though as they break after constant use. They’re all well designed and it’s neat to see them actually being carried by your character – there’s no room for magic, infinite pockets in Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth.

You’ll need these weapons too, with Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth featuring a wide range of enemies. You’ll come across evil plants, mud monsters, skeletons, knights – there are plenty of enemies out for you blood. There are some cool boss encounters too, offering colossal beasts that are equipped with a wide variety of moves that you’ll have to learn to counter if you’re going to have any chance of success. There were a few unfair moves from the bosses that could take you out in one hit if they landed awkwardly, but for the most part they were entertaining encounters.

Playing like the collect-athons of yesteryear, Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth features a blue floating collectible called ‘motes’. These motes are used to pay for items from the merchants in the game or to unlock new areas. They’re carefully placed so they’re fun to collect, requiring both wit and skill if you’re going to find them all. The game does get a little generous with the amount you find though – I had close to 2000 spare by the time I came around to finishing the game.

One of Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth’s weak points is the amount of bugs that can be found in the game. None were game breaking so it won’t ruin your experience, but there were so many oddities like teleporting to the wrong place, the wrong cutscene playing or just a graphical oddity. To the developer’s credit they’ve been fixing bugs since the game released, but during my time playing the game I encountered too many not to mention it – there’s nothing that’ll ruin your experience with the game though.

Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth

My expectations were high going into Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth and for the most part it delivered. The world was fascinating to explore and offered plenty of secrets to discover, whilst the game’s platforming and puzzles were great fun. The cast of characters are neat too and swapping between them on the fly worked really well.

The combat could feel a little clunky at times and the game does have a lot of bugs, but overall I had a good time with Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth. It’s just good vibes all around, whilst the nostalgic high I felt lasted from start to finish. If you’re looking for a fix of N64-goodness then I’d definitely recommend giving Warden: Melody of the Undergrowth a shot – just don’t expect it to be quite as good as the games that inspired it.

Pros
– A fascinating world to explore full of colour and life
– Enjoyable platforming
– Tricky puzzles that feel rewarding when solved
– A great cast of characters

Cons
– Combat could feel a little clunky
– Plenty of bugs to be found

8-score

Developer: Cardboard Keep (www.cardboardkeep.com)
Publisher: Cardboard Keep (www.cardboardkeep.com)
Release Date: 09/04/2016 (PC, Mac, Linux) TBA (Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U)
Format(s): PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U

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