For reasons unbeknownst to me – but that I am completely happy with – I tend to review kids games. It's great, because in between my shooters and highly immersive RPGs I get to enjoy games that are easier to understand.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is one of those games. Along with a long name, it features a beautiful world, collectable cats, and absolutely no combat. While the full title actually has meaning in the game, I've started calling it Yonder: My First RPG because it seems a little more apt.
Yonder: Pick Your Own Subtitle was developed and published by a small Australian based company called Prideful Sloth. While it’s their debut game, the company was created by industry veterans with the intention of creating games with beautiful worlds. They succeeded.
If you only play action based shooters, this might not be a game for you. Not only is there no combat, there's no death and no fall damage. It's incredibly strange to begin with. I kept expecting something to charge at me and make a fatal blow. I was actually nervous the first time I ran off a cliff because I expected to at the very least hear some sort of pained groan. Instead my character pulled out a rainbow umbrella and floated to safety like Mary Poppins. The closest thing you have to dying is walking into water too far. You're promptly teleported back to land with a black fade out. Considering the game takes place on the island of Gemea, there are plenty of chances to do this.
The lack of combat and death is just one indicator that Yonder was created with a younger audience in mind. The controls are really simple and easy to use, and while Yonder has a story, it's not actually all that important. Orphaned, shipwrecked by lightning, you find yourself in a new land that needs saving – while trying to find out your past. When I played Spyro as a kid I had no idea what the story actually was, but that didn't impact my enjoyment at all. Yonder is much the same, even as an adult.
At its heart however, Yonder is a story about natural disasters, helping others out, and rebuilding a community while exploring a beautiful world. It's a game that – while aimed towards children – takes on some serious meaning in the way a lot of indies try to. Yonder succeeds, and is the sort of title you’d use in a “video games are art” argument.
What makes Yonder enjoyable for everyone is the diverse and stunning world of Gemea. It features eight distinct biomes, and multiple villages each with their own theme. It's hard to not find something unique and enjoyable about each one discovered. One is built inside a giant ice cavern while another (which is the base for the tailors guild) has a giant ball of yarn in the center of town. That's not even taking into account the beautiful world you traverse to get to each town.
The exploration of Gemea takes time. Instead of fast travel – which I sorely wanted towards the end of the game – Yonder introduces sage stones; a combination of Fable’s demon doors and a hub world. Like in Fable, you have to meet the sage stone's requirements to unlock it. Once unlocked however, you have free access to quickly travel from stone to stone.
Yonder features an art style obviously meant to appeal to children. Characters are cartoony and most of the colours are light pastels mixed beautifully together. You can customise your characters to a certain extent too. Hair style, colour and clothing all change pretty frequently simply because you pick up new gear. Screenshots do not do it justice and on more than one occasion I found myself just looking around and taking in the sunset from atop a mountain.
Yonder’s day-night cycle last about twenty minutes. There's very little difference between days and night besides the colour scheme. You work through the night just as easily as the day, just with a lantern. Honestly, there isn't much need for a night day cycle except to mark the passage of time, which is only needed for the seasons. Each season takes about thirty in game days. Different seasons allow you to do different quests and gain access to new places.
You'll spend a fair amount of time collecting resources. Wood, stone, berries and fluff are all needed to craft the items needed to complete quests, build farms, and join guilds. None of these things are complex. Quests are generally just collecting items for someone, while guilds just require you to craft specific items, and farms are a place to hoard all the adorable animals of Gemea.
Yonder is as calming as it is addictive. I had thought I was happy with the amount I had played, only to come back the next day and complete even more quests. At just shy of $40 it's a little more than I'd want to pay for a game based around exploration, despite how wonderful the world being explored was. That hasn't stopped me from showing the island of Gemea off to all my friends though. Like a kid with the latest set of Pokémon cards, they're not really interested, but I'm going to make sure they know all about Yonder: The Charming and Calming.
Bronwyn received a digital copy of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles from the developer for review.