Whispering Willows

Game Review by Natasha Bissett | 07 Aug 2014
Game title: Whispering Willows
Publisher: Night Light Interactive
Release date: Out Now
Price: £10.99 standard edition, £18.99 deluxe edition

Nightlight Interactive describe Whispering Willows as a “horror” game, which may be misleading. It’s horror like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, but it’s not the ‘zombocalypse,’ blood and guts, hack-and-slash horror that currently saturates the market. This makes Whispering Willows a breath of fresh air and is even pretty safe for kids to play.

The game follows Elena, a tween searching for her missing father on the grounds of the nearby Willow Estate. She discovers she has the ability to separate her spirit from her body to help her navigate the Estate grounds and interact with the deceased that linger there. As Elena moves through the Estate, she slowly uncovers what came to pass there centuries before and what happened to her father who was working there as a groundskeeper. There’s a darkness to the story, including the massacre of indigenous people, but Nightlight Interactive are not ones to labour the point here.

Whispering Willows is a murder-mystery and Elena becomes a source of closure for the anguished spirits on the Estate. There’s a satisfactory amount of collectables – notes that reveal the story from the ghost’s point of view – and fetch quests to solve puzzles. Danger is at a minimum so it doesn’t detract from the story or puzzle-solving. There are also twenty easy-to-reach achievements to unlock with a few nods to other videogames and pop culture in general. Although it only takes about two hours to finish, it’s a rewarding and positive experience that doesn’t drag on any longer than it needs to.

The graphics are great, with cut-scenes illustrated in a style that could easily be the drawings for a picture book. In-game, Elena and her spirit are drawn in a style that resembles the sharpness of the Avatar cartoon. Elena is a girl with knobbly knees and stick-like legs wearing her dad’s oversized jacket which she hides her hands in – the perfect visual reminder that she’s a girl searching for her dad in a scary environment. The background designs maintain the story-book illustrative style, which is detailed but not overly imposing with information. Similarly, the background music is slight, channelling the spookiness of the Haunted Mansion with plinking high-notes.

There are a few elements that are initially a little frustrating. Firstly, there is no map, meaning that players will have to rely on their memory. Secondly, there can be a lot of backtracking if Elena’s spirit strays too far from her body. That said, Elena’s speed and body-language is an indication of nearby danger; she cowers a little when there is something that could attack and if there is something chasing her she will sprint away from it.

Overall, Whispering Willows is a satisfying experience that’s straight out of a Disney story-book. There’s a happy ending, a brave tween looking for her dad whilst trying to help out ghosts, good graphics, simple but stimulating puzzles and a manageable play-time that all help to leave you with a smile on your face.