The Wild at Heart is an indie puzzle adventure game for Xbox and PC that has a lot in common with the popular Nintendo Pikmingames from a number of years ago. Instead of exploring an alien planet, however, this game focuses on a fantastical forest realm filled with lots of puzzles and challenges.
The story begins with a 10-year-old boy named Wake who, because of strains between himself and his Dad due to a recent tragedy at home, decides that he’s going to run away and meet up with his friend, a young girl named Kirby. While doing so, Wake stumbles upon a place that he didn’t realize was a part of the wooded area behind his house: an enchanted world known as the Deep Woods. This colorful place is populated by a society of quirky human guardians that call themselves the Greenshields, and all sorts of other creatures and beasties.
Little forest critters dubbed Spritelings take an immediate liking to Wake. And he realizes that he and his bud, Kirby, can gather these woodland creatures and literally toss them at the problems they face. These tiny beings help the heroes move on to new areas and solve puzzles.
Spritelings also fight enemies, and they discover various treasures and items. Eventually Wake and Kirby can lead an army of up to 60 magical Spritelings that fall into variety of different types and can deal with specific challenges. Some, for instance, have a resistance to fire, others to icy conditions. Some can eliminate magic corruption and toxic poisons, while others have a spiky shell that lets them stick to certain surfaces and chisel away at crystal rocks. Wake and Kirby launch their new friends to gather gears and mechanical parts, build bridges, burn tumbleweeds, clear poisonous paths, etc.
Gameplay involves not only environmental puzzle-solving, but the exploration and gathering of nuts, bolts and other objects that can, in turn, be used to craft needed resources. At Greenshield campgrounds Wake can craft all sorts of concoctions and contraptions to aid him in his quests, including health tonics and potions to boost a Spriteling’s defense. Wake has a vacuum-like device that can attract distant items. And Kirby has a special lantern that can drain energy from magical structures.
Together, Wake, Kirby, the Spritelings and the Greenshields share the common goal of finding a way to save the Deep Woods and the outside world from a dark, multi-eyed evil known as The Never.
The Wild at Heart employs a magical forest and lots of puzzle-solving, crafting and adventure to work through Wake’s sense of loss and feelings of emotional estrangement. The story’s resolution suggests that Wake comes to understand some of the strain between himself and his father more clearly, too, as he decides to return home after pushing back the evil in the forest. And it does all this in a world that grabs the eye with its beautiful watercolor feel.
Dark creatures come out at night in the forest and can attack Wake and his crew. And battles ensue as the Spritelings are tossed at enemies. In some cases, an entire field can be filled with scattered enemies that Wake and Kirby must move between and battle with as they try to solve a given puzzle.
That said, there are no weapons in the mix here, which keeps violence to a minimum. Attacking baddies are simply pummeled until they disappear. In turn, the enemies can also swallow and trap the small woodland Spritelings; in some cases, opponents grab them and fly away. Wake and Kirby can be bopped, too. And if they lose all their health bars they pass out and reawake at a nearby Greenshield camp.
There’s at least a nod to alcohol abuse in the story. We see Wake’s father sitting in a chair in front of the TV with empty beer cans scattered around him. (We learn later that he’s struggling with grief.) Kirby calls Wake a “dumba–” when they first meet. (That said, there is no spoken dialogue in the game, as all conversations are all printed out.) She apologizes for her rude comments later.
A multi-eyed evil entity and a witch-like character also show up later in the game. There are no spells cast. But there is plenty of magic and evil behind the conflict and the fantastical lore of the forest.
Parents should know that there’s a lot of necessary reading here since there’s no voice over. And some of the later environmental puzzles and constantly moving struggles could be a little complicated for little gamers. There’s also a light spiritual creepiness to some of the dark creatures.
But for the most part, The Wild at Heart offers a fun, colorful, 16-hour adventure that will definitely appeal to many—offering up thoughtful challenges and light lessons along the way.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.