The indie game scene this generation continues to offer an overwhelming plethora of choices, making it pretty easy to overlook new, unique, and engaging titles. Allow Whispering Willows to catch your eye. Deep seeded in the horror landscape, this spooky 2D tale of mystery, murder, and the paranormal swept me right up for the ride. Even though the tale is a shorter one, it’s riddled with puzzle solving, exploration, assisting wayward spirits, and more. This is a haunted tale that rises above most of the ever-growing indie graveyard.
Developed by Night Light Interactive, Whispering Willows places you into the role of Elena, a young girl who is trying to find her missing father. Using an ancient amulet given to her by her father, she can astrally project into a ghost form. This ability allows her to speak with the dead, traverse the environment in new ways, and possess and manipulate objects. Along your journey, you are introduced to many spirits that help put each piece of the puzzle in place. You also encounter many ghostly dwellers looking for help to solve their own mysteries, allowing them to finally rest in peace.
Whispering Willows’s gameplay is presented in a traditional 2D over-world design. Each haunted hub throws you into new chilling, creepy grounds as you continue the search for your father. As you wander into each unnerving space, you are face to face with something just as bone-chilling as the spectres around you: the loading screens. Let me just say this, there are a lot of loading screens here. In a game that is only a couple of hours long and where exploration, backtracking, and discovery is key, I was just as scared to see a new loading screen, as I was a spirit.
Clues to reaching your father are obtained by supernatural interactions with the lost NPC souls. You can also unearth notes left around the game to help give you a better idea of your task at hand. I truly enjoyed hesitantly exploring each level and uncovering secrets as I worked my way to the credits in Whispering Willows. It felt fluid and easily accessible for a casual player, which is a luxury too often overlooked in this genre. It would have been a great touch to have a bit more function with Elena other than control stick movement and the “A” button for interaction, but it is not something that sours the overall experience here.
Visually, Whispering Willows is a pleasure to look at, and really lays down the ominous mood it intends to set. The animation style is crisp and very well polished. The brooding color scheme seems to glow on the screen just right, even in its darkest of settings. The luminous blue ectoplasm burst that shoots from Elena every time she summons her spirit form, is definitely a spine-tingling highlight. Graphically it reminded me of a cartoon I would have loved to watch as a kid.
From the cracking of trees to the sound of embodied voices trailing your every step, Whispering Willows hits it all the way to the graveyard with its audio. There are moments when you can hear the sound of a pin hitting the floor, to moments when the increasing somber orchestra can grow to be deafening. The sound design is implemented fluidly, and complimenting to your eerie surroundings. I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated that there was no voice acting done for the NPCs, or even placed in the awkward cut scenes sprinkled throughout the game.
Whispering Willows is a fun, spooky, little indie treat for anybody looking to scratch their paranormal itch. While it may not offer the most depth in gameplay or story length, it delivers in a solid overall experience.
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