The hauntingly beautiful, eerily desolate scenes of The Whispered World make the knowledge of impending doom all the more chilling. The world is already crumbling, and in spite of his noblest intentions, the protagonist is destined not to save it, but to end it.
Players control Sadwick, a pessimistic young clown plagued with visions about his role in the coming apocalypse. His quest to fight fate takes players through gorgeous hand-painted screens, featuring mysterious autumnal forests and candlelit shores. The 2-D animation is a tribute to simplicity, keeping the emphasis on the strange, often sad story, beautiful original orchestrated score, and rich dialogue.
Sadwick encounters a cast of quirky characters that could have come from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth or a Hayao Miyazaki movie. Some of the best include a pair of megalomaniacal rocks and an unemployed factory worker who loves making loud noises. The game is lightly populated, so each supporting character gets plenty of screen time. Their conversations with Sadwick often involve serious discussions peppered with laugh-out-loud-funny lines. The humor is never cheesy, just a mix of light-hearted fun and Sadwick’s own dry, self-deprecating wit.
The point-and-click adventure game requires players to figure out how to combine items to solve problems. Constant vigilance is required, or backtracking may be necessary. Scenes often change subtly between visits, making it easy to miss a key item. And many puzzles require not just items, but the assistance of Sadwick’s pet caterpillar, Spot. Eating things gives Spot the ability to take different forms with different abilities.
The sheer number of possibilities means a lot of trial-and-error is inevitable. While pressing the spacebar reveals interactable items, many times they can’t be used for anything significant until additional tasks are complete. Luckily, not solving a puzzle can be its own reward; failure often triggers amusing quips from Sadwick about his past and his own incompetence. Watching him chide Spot for defying him or generally being useless is especially charming. Unfortunately, those consolation prizes aren’t present in the few times players must complete mini-games such as properly arranging gears or chess pieces. The narrative can’t progress until the tough puzzles have been completed, and without any comic relief, frustration can set in quickly.