Vincent the thief steals a treasured necklace from a powerful witch believing he was simply robbing a wealthy old lady. As punishment, she condemns him to spend eternity in Whateverland, the witch’s personal purgatorial prison, where she sends just about anyone for a good enough reason.
In this point and click adventure, we embark through Whateverland as Vincent and meet a strange cast of characters along the way. One of the first is Nick, a ruff-wearing writer somewhat styled upon Shakespeare who tells us how we can get out and becomes our companion. The witch left a summoning spell with the first people who were imprisoned, and over time the spell was split into pieces and shared among prominent townspeople. Vincent will need to retrieve each of the pieces of the spell to earn his way home.
And metaphorically, Whateverland is anything but simple. Over time, people’s appearances change in line with how they act. Nick warns us that our actions could alter us, using himself as an example – he is slowly turning into a ghost from the legs up.
It offers intriguing puzzles, which dictate later storyline conclusions. For most scenarios we’ll face there is a “bad” but easy option – the path of least resistance, or a “good” but more convoluted and harder option offering to put ourselves on a better path. I think it speaks a lot to human nature, like how easy to fall onto the wrong path regardless of your reasons, and how it’s also equally as difficult to be “good”. Certainly, this seems to be the lesson the witch Beatrice wants you to learn, acidly questioning your ability to think about what you are doing, what your motivations are and whether you can do the good and right thing even though it is hard.
There is surprisingly a lot of depth to Whateverland. Performing our good deeds has us taking on a variety of crazy and interactive tasks, from sorting fish with convoluted rules, composing an act for a jazz quartet, wing-manning a date for a man who only talks in musical theory, or building and dressing a dungeon… there’s still more. We also need to take on the previously mentioned prominent townspeople – the Bells&Bones champions; a mini-game which I can only describe as a tactical steampunk critter battler… quidditch? Tank bug basketball? If you don’t connect with it, you can skip them entirely. It’s an interesting game where you control 4 creatures on a playing field, where the player must tactically move them around, intercepting the bell and using their unique abilities to score in the opposing team’s goal.
But if this doesn’t resonate with you, you can collect balls of yarn from across Whateverland to summon the mighty cat to come and steal the bell from the playing board, ultimately declaring you the winner. I think Bells&Bones is a welcome break from the usual location hopping seen in point and click games, but I also appreciated the possibility of skipping it as progress would have probably bottlenecked for me at this point.
There is more still! Falling back on Vincent’s criminal side, the bad way to resolve the scenarios involves breaking into their personal lockboxes and devices using his lock pick kit. It is interesting and adds more variety to the gameplay, where each tool does something different and each lock is a puzzle to be broken down piece by piece. The gameplay in Whateverland revolves around a series of intricate tasks that are woven into the narrative.
For instance, one involves helping the town’s radio DJ relay their broadcast signal by aligning satellites correctly. But in Whateverland, nothing is as simple as it seems, and almost everything is quid pro quo. To achieve this, you’ll first need to visit the park and engage in a strategic game of Bells&Bones against Hilda, one of the champions. Why? Because Hilda had appropriated the satellite as a makeshift sunlamp because there is no sun in Whateverland.
This intricate connection between puzzles and tasks is the core of Whateverland’s gameplay philosophy. It’s not just about solving isolated challenges; it’s about immersing yourself in a world where every action has consequences, and every puzzle is part of a larger, interconnected narrative.
The hand-drawn graphics in Whateverland are not only stylistic but also a bit twisted and surreal. Each location has eye-catching moments and subtle nods to Japanese pop culture. Keep a keen eye out for familiar faces like Kamaji, the boiler man from Spirited Away, in the bustling market, or a subtle reference to Naruto in the ramen shop. I think there might even be a reference to the YouTube channel The Lock-picking Lawyer in the achievements list.
However, I did encounter a couple of bugs, and they impacted my gameplay experience a little. Given that Whateverland offers a non-linear story experience, players enjoy the freedom to tackle quests in any order they choose. However, a significant issue arises when certain items can be inadvertently collected before initiating their associated quests. In my case, I had unintentionally picked up a tape from the barmaid in the jazz club because it was a dialogue option before I had triggered the quest to collect such tapes. This caused a break in the quest chain; when I reached that specific point in the chain, the game didn’t recognise that I had already completed that step and prevented me from moving forward.
When Nick reprimands us for taking this route, Vincent’s responses seemed somewhat callous, as if saying, ‘Oh well, sucks to be him,’ which would have felt more in line had I chosen that option for any other reason than out of necessity. This predicament can be particularly frustrating, especially for those striving for the good ending, as it may feel like you’re compelled to resort to less favourable choices to make progress. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the game shows some leniency in this regard. Despite having to resort to a few unfavourable deeds to circumvent these issues, I still managed to achieve the good ending by being a mostly good boy. You can keep track of which path you’re on with the quest log which keeps track of where you’re at with each character and gives cryptic hints for your next steps if you get a bit stuck.
Whateverland is a witty and entertaining experience that left a lasting impression. While the alternate choice-based achievements certainly add to its replayability, it’s the exceptional cast and captivating characters that make me eager to dive back into the game. The humour, voice acting, and intriguing personalities within the game create a world I’m eager to revisit, making Whateverland a memorable and enjoyable adventure worth experiencing again.
Caligari Games’ Whateverland is out now on all formats. Published on consoles by Drageus Games.