REVIEW: ‘Windbound’ Fails as a Survival Game and Narrative Adventure (Switch)

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Windbound

Windbound is a survival action-adventure game developed by 5 Lives Studios and published by Koch Media for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Stadia. Unfortunately, while the visuals of Windbound are stunning, the gameplay itself is almost painful to play through, creating an incredibly disappointing experience.

In Windbound, you play as a girl stranded in the ocean. To find your way back to wherever you came from, you must visit numerous islands, unlocking their secrets and progressing past sea monsters.

One of the first letdowns with Windbound is the story. In a way, Windbound honestly might have been better if it hadn’t attempted a story at all and had relied completely on the survival aspect of the game. Nothing from the story is coherent, other than “girl is shipwrecked, fix it.” There’s some sort of narrative happening with the monsters and some tapestries that pop up in between chapters, but for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you what any of it means.

Plus, as a survival game, Windbound’s default mode means that if you die, you start over completely. Not from the beginning of the chapter, but from the beginning of the game. This would have been fine if it was a roguelike. As a game with a narrative through line, however, it made dying incredibly frustrating. Dying in survival games is supposed to challenge you so that on your next run, you perform a little better. While this element is still present in Windbound, there’s a huge difference between being sent back 20 minutes and learning from your mistakes than getting sent back four, five or even six hours.

Of course, there is an easier mode for players who don’t want this experience, but the game actively discourages you from picking it. The easier mode restarts you from the beginning of the chapter instead of the beginning of the game, but the text makes it clear that this is considered the inferior way to play.

Windbound gets increasingly disappointing from here. The survival mechanics feel hollow and, at times, completely unnecessary. I wanted to dive deep into the game, learning the ins and outs of how to build, forage and hunt to survive, but everything felt too unequal. Not in the way a survival game should, either.

Windbound Gameplay

I rarely felt like my inability to take down an animal was my fault. Often, my weapons were simply not effective and I couldn’t build better ones because no matter what island I visited, none of the materials I needed existed. When I did manage to kill something and get food, it would sustain me, but barely.

My strategy turned to foraging, looking for berries or things that were dropped on the ground just to keep my meters up. This wasn’t particularly hard, though, and made the survival aspect of the game irrelevant, leaving only sailing and exploration for me to dive into.

Unfortunately, as beautiful as the world is, it’s empty. There’s not much to see, and the islands you discover all feel the same. Each chapter felt like a repetitive slog, trudging through empty oceans and unexciting islands to climb towers, find items and gather food.

Again, though, at least the world was visually appealing to look at. Windbound is the ultimate extension of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker with its cel-shaded, vibrant colors. Additionally, the music in Windbound is beautiful as well, with soft, touching piano pieces that capture the atmosphere of drifting through an empty ocean perfectly.

Overall, though, Windbound’s visual and atmospheric aesthetic just can’t save the gameplay. I wanted to love Windbound as a fan of survival games and cel-shaded visuals, but the world was too empty and uninteresting to make the adventure worth it. The survival mechanics were almost unnecessary, making the trek through the world feel even more pointless and empty than it should have. Windbound is an attempt to combine narrative, survival, exploration and aesthetic into one package and fails on every count.

Windbound is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Stadia.

Windbound
  • 4/10
    Rating - 4/10
4/10

TL;DR

Overall, though, Windbound’s visual and atmospheric aesthetic just can’t save the gameplay. I wanted to love Windbound as a fan of survival games and cel-shaded visuals, but the world was too empty and uninteresting to make the adventure worth it. The survival mechanics were almost unnecessary, making the trek through the world feel even more pointless and empty than it should have. Windbound is an attempt to combine narrative, survival, exploration and aesthetic into one package and fails on every count.