I’ve Played a Bit – The Wild at Heart (2021)

Game: The Wild at Heart developed by Moonlight Kids
Available now on Xbox Game Pass and Steam ($24.99)

The Wild at Heart is adorable – which I am sure you can tell from the artwork above. It’s got a very unique style and look that immediately got me invested in the characters. But don’t worry – it’s not just a pretty face and adorable nostalgia, there is a solid game here.

Set in (what I am guessing is) the 1990s (there is a not-quite X-Files and Lost Boys poster on the bedroom wall at the start, along with scattered piles of VHS tapes), the game is an homage to all the stories of children trying to make it on their own and escaping their real lives by hiding in the woods, only to find the woods teaching them about the real world.

You begin the game alone, as Wake, who quickly explains that he and his best friend Kirby have decided to run away from home together and are going to meet up in the woods behind his house. But Wake immediately becomes lost. Then a little spriteling finds him and guides him through the forest where he learns about the Greenshields, a group of mysterious “weirdos” that live in the Deep Woods. Like any good adventure story, Wake soon finds his mission to runaway intertwined with the mission of the Greenshields and must help them restore balance to the forest by reuniting the members.

So you wander the woods, collecting scrap, food and then crafting items to survive. But Wake isn’t alone! The spritelings want to help and, in fact, they are yours to command. See something you can’t quite reach? Toss a spriteling up there. Can’t get past a rock? The spritelings can work together to drag it away. Attacked by a monster? Throw ALL THE SPRITELINGS at the creatures and defeat them. (Don’t worry, if they meet their demise, they just become one with the forest and you can summon them again later!)

Need a bridge? Throw the spritelings at a pile of sticks and watch them get to work!

I’ve played for a couple hours now and I am loving this game. The sounds, the music, the tone, the colors – this feels like an instant “indie darling” to me, and in a good way! While I’ve only had a hint at the emotional backstory waiting to be revealed…it is clear that eventually Wake is going to have to confront his father and family issues. But right now, the exploring and puzzle solving are keeping me engaged. There is also a day/night cycle that you have to watch because DARK IS BAD! I’ve had one unfortunate adventure where I forgot to watch the clock (it even said at the gate that this was a long journey and to be prepared, but did I listen??) but I managed to hide by a lantern until sunrise and the promise of safety.

If you like quirky adventure games with a sense of humor that make you think as you solve puzzles and fight monsters in a Ghibli-esque landscape, I suggest ‘The Wild at Heart’, especially if you have Xbox Game Pass! The game was also featured in the PAX West Indie Showcase this past weekend.

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