The Wandering Village Review: "Yes, You Can Pet The Dinosaur"
The Wandering Village is a new crafting survival game by indie team Stray Fawn Studio. The game sets its premise in a similar scope to Terry Pratchett's Discworld. However, instead of surviving on the back of a cosmic turtle hurtling through space, the game sets you on the back of a dinosaur-like creature. You have two goals, keep the creature alive and build a city on top of it. This symbiotic relationship is the core of the gameplay. The world around you is fraught with dangers, in particular, poisonous clouds that envelop and threaten to undo your hard work. In short, keep your village alive and thriving on top of the constantly moving gentle giant.
The premise of the game is simple, yet effective. The world is uninhabitable yet somehow this beast has survived against all odds. You start the game with a small tribe of survivors on the back of Onbu, the lovable herbivore. The story is shrouded in a layer of mystery. It is unclear how the world has deteriorated, or if it has always been this way. By scouting nearby mines and shrines you can glean more of your surroundings and discover more of the past.
The game begins as most crafting survival games do, with the bare essentials. You must unlock more advanced methods of gathering materials and buildings as the game progresses. The process of researching buildings, unlocking them, and gathering materials to build them is a fun and satisfying game loop that will keep you occupied for an average of ten hours plus before you run out of things to build.
The art style of The Wandering Village is split between the 2D animations of your tribe and 3D-focused shots of Onbu. Stray Fawn Studio have expressed the fact that Studio Ghibli was a large influence on design when creating the 2D animations and this really shines through.
I Believe In A Thing Called Onbu
Although this genre is certainly nothing new to the gaming scene, the added element of Onbu brings a whole other level of challenge.
Onbu is your constant travelling companion, incapable of staying out of trouble. He can be petulant, stubborn, and downright dismissive of your every effort to keep him alive. Yet, there is something powerfully adorable about this silent colossus.
He resembles a moving mountain, a dinosaur enveloped in vines, and yes before you wonder for much longer, you can pet the dinosaur. What's more, you can feed Onbu, medicate him and clear him of poison if he ventures into a noxious gas cloud. Spoilers – he will do this. A Lot.
Despite your best efforts though, Onbu can choose to simply ignore you and venture into danger regardless, reminding you every step of the way that he is a sentient being with his own feelings, not just a vehicle for your tribe.
The constant battle of wills to keep him alive can be frustrating at times and yet, with all the challenge this brings, it only adds to the sense of satisfaction. You may realise a critical mistake you made at the beginning of the construction of your village hours within your playthrough and decide to start again. This never feels like a waste of time, but rather a learning experience in which you feel re-vitalised and ready to start another adventure with Onbu, this time better prepared and equipped for the oncoming journey.
Music To The Ears
The sound design of The Wandering Village may not be a deciding factor for those of you contemplating buying the game – but it should be recognised. The music is changeable depending on which biome you wander into and varies from Mongolian throat singing to synth waves. It is immediately recognisable and seems to forge its own genre into a heavily populated space. Simply put, the music is delightful and inobtrusive, even after hours of gameplay.
Equally, the game has a custom foley sound depending on which village building you click on. For example, if you click on the lumber mill, you'll be greeted with the sound of wood cutting. These little touches show how the game was a real labour of love for the small dev team, with impressive attention to detail.
As stated above, the game is in early access with ongoing development due to commence. You'll find gameplay halts around the ten-hour mark after you've constructed the 'Survival Monument'. and the biomes offer unique dangers but do become repetitive after a while. Onbu interactions are limited, and the overarching story is only ever hinted at during the beginning of the game and through scavenger reports.
However, the dev team has issued plans in their roadmap to introduce an additional water and ruins biome as well as further Onbu interactions, story content, tameable birds, and sky merchants. If this is implemented, the game can easily expand and further improve.
As survival crafting games go, this is a solid option. If you enjoy micro-managing a small civilisation that relies on you for everything, you'll love The Wandering Village. The added element of caring for Onbu is a challenging but satisfying aspect of the gameplay and resource management and adjusting your priorities based on the biome you travel to all add to the sense of adventure. Without a clear distinction between milestones, The Wandering Village is a game you can easily spend hours playing without realising.
In a sense, if you find survival crafting games relaxing then this one is a must.
Reviewed on PC. Code provided by the publisher.