Developer: Dim Bulb Games, Serenity Forge
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Release Date: Out Now
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux
Ever heard a story that’s been passed down through generations that might sound a little bit farfetched, but people swear is true and spread like wildfire anyway? That’s part of the premise of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine – the narrative adventure from the teams at Dim Bulb Games and Serenity Forge that sees you exploring America, uncovering its folklore, and spreading the variety of tales you discover with the people you meet along the way. Oh, and it also features Sting taking on the role of a devious Wolf, so it’s got that going for it.
You take on the role of a travelling Skeleton (don’t worry, it’s explained) who trudges his way across America, looking to uncover the stories of the other folk who wander the land in order to tell them to a Wolf (who may well be the Devil). Why? Because you lost a card game with him. It might seem like a strange way to kick off the tale, but given that a lot of your time will be spent taking in a myriad of unbelievable tales anyway, it’s actually quite fitting.
Each of the stories you come across are incredibly varied and well-written, with a wide range of different authors sharing their own tall-tales in the game. The range of stories told is impressive, and with an emphasis on different themes and emotions (more on that later), they’ll touch the player in different ways too. Don’t get me wrong, some are more interesting than others (like the tale of a camera that kills anyone who’s photographed by it, proper Goosebumps-vibes there), but they all manage to draw you in.
It’s worth saying now that Where the Water Tastes Like Wine won’t be for everyone. It’s a very unique and distinct game, and whilst the gameplay mechanics do have familiar hallmarks to other titles I’ve played, the vibe as a whole is certainly one of a kind. It’s by no means a bad thing and I found myself appreciating the overall tone a lot, but it does have this very niche feel to it that I’m sure a lot of gamers may not find themselves feeling completely absorbed by.
The main bulk of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is spent travelling across the American map and meeting up with a wide range of eclectic folk, each with their own needs and different stories to tell. Spread some of your own tales with them, and they’ll become loose-lipped and share with you too. Each story you know of is represented by a card in-game, and with the different characters often wanting to hear stories that evoke specific emotions, you’ve got to be very particular in what you decide to share with them. Please them with your tales, and they’ll tell you theirs so you can add them to your collection. Simple.
It’s not just tale-sharing in the game though, with plenty of smaller tasks to partake in and plenty of different locations to see on your travels. You’ll have to make choices throughout the game too and your actions can have dire outcomes, with death a possibility if you don’t look after yourself. Hell, even stories can harm you if you aren’t careful, so there’s a severe sense of risk at place in everything that you do. It adds a whole extra dimension to the game though, and shows that it isn’t always focused solely upon the narrative.
Whilst I enjoyed exploring the world and seeing everything it had to offer, the slow movement of your character could become a little frustrating. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine isn’t a small game and you’ll be trudging long distances across the map as you uncover each story, so having to do it at a slow speed took away from the experience a bit. I think it was intentionally designed by the developer this way to fit the game’s tone, but from a gameplay perspective it could frustrate. At least there are moments where you can use public transport (and try to not pay if you’re feeling naughty) or even hitch a ride…
The story-collecting gameplay as a whole offers a unique take on the collecting mechanics we’ve seen used in other games, and I couldn’t help but to find myself completely absorbed by it all. I mean, I’ve collected plenty of cars in racing games and even little monsters in the Pokémon series, but tall-tales that change the further you progress through the game? It felt incredibly unique and I really loved the thought-provoking nature of it all.
The best aspect of it is how the characters you share stories with return further on in the game, allowing you to see how exactly their life is panning out and what effect the tales you’ve spread has had on them. You’ll even see the different sides of each tale, with some of the more unbelievable stories typically having some truth behind them, or maybe even expanding into wilder stories that the people who hear them have totally embraced. Honestly, you just never know where the game will take things at times, but you can always guarantee that the stories you’ve told will continually evolve as if they’re a Chinese whisper.
As mentioned, the characters you meet want to hear stories that evoke particular emotions or follow a specific theme – the problem is, they’re so broad in design that it’s not always easy to interpret what exactly they want. They’ll only wag-tongues and open up to you if you get this right too, so it can be frustrating when an emotion you think would inspire hope ends up leaving them underwhelmed, or a story that’s supposed to evoke sadness somehow leaves them amused. If you don’t trigger the right emotion within them, they’ll be less inclined to open up to you and you’ll instead see your story collection a little bit incomplete. Maybe the somewhat laid back nature of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine threw me off a bit, but it could be a little difficult to always interpret the overlying message and theme behind each little tale you uncover.
Visually, the game is a little bit of a mixed bag, though it is undoubtedly more good than bad. The illustrations that come along with the stories and scenarios you find yourself in are fantastic throughout, especially during the night-time camping scenes where you share your tales with other characters. On the other hand, the world map lacked personality and at times just looked a little bland. There’s certainly a stark contrast in quality between the world map and the illustrations seen during the more pivotal scenes. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing hideous on show – it’s just a shame that the world map didn’t feel as interesting to look at since it’s where you spend a lot of your time in the game.