Developer Different Tales, along with publisher Walkabout, present Wanderlust Travel Stories for review (shortened to Wanderlust for the rest of this piece). Wanderlust hopes to lull players into relaxation while taking in the virtual realities of the characters. Players get to make decisions about what the characters do and perhaps learn about the world in the process.
Wanderlust wants you to relax. From the calming music to the calming color palette, almost every choice is designed to lower the need to stress about the game. The game proceeds on, and in order to take in the different sights, sounds, and dialogue the player will need to select the options during the window they’re open. Otherwise the player will need to read through the dialogue as presented, making choices for the characters in order to get the clock moving again, and watch the little icons reach their global destinations.
Disclosure: I played an earlier version of Wanderlust that was roughly an hour-long demo of the story that takes place in Thailand. The entire experience reminded me of being stuck with a privileged person who didn’t know how to tell a story and desperately wanted me to know how life-changing the experience was. Then an update came in that opened up access to the rest of the game, so I started over. Following that I came to find that the framing story is one of privileged travelers sharing the trip that changed their life the most, while they were all on vacation. The rest of the experience was just as tiresome.
Wanderlust bills itself as rooted in the values of Slow Gaming which is not the case playing it. In order to take in the most of what Wanderlust has to offer, you’ll need to pay close attention to the small options as they appear onscreen. This is micromanaging attention, not creating a contemplative space. It similarly doesn’t help that the contemplative space being created is bland at best.
Henriette’s story is a good example of the limited reach of the writing. She’s going on vacation to the Antarctic and thinks about a big case she can take with her. What’s going on with the case, who is it for, and why would she take it? Wanderlust only has the slightest outlines to provide in that whatever the important case turns out to be both political parties (and yes, it is that vague) will be courting her. These details attempt to create the impression of Henriette being an important person outside the vacation but all you’ll get to know is Henriette inside the vacation.
So my efforts to make Henriette an interesting person inside the vacation became my focus. There are two bars of stress and health to watch, but my attempts to fill them up to try and produce an interesting reaction were useless. Wanderlust would just give me options to lessen one or the other and I had to pick one in order to proceed. All this serves to remind me that it’s not my vacation, or even a vacation where I could force something of interest to happen. This experience was a carefully curated series of encounters where what’s supposed to happen is dictated well in advance. This, if you are the kind of person who truly gets wanderlust, is the worst kind of vacation.
Wanderlust Travel Stories
Wanderlust was inspired by the developer's trips around the world and, if the credits are accurate, a heap of photographs available online through various licenses. There's little reason to play it when you're not on vacation and I can't fathom a scenario to play it when you actually are. When one of the most memorable events of playing Wanderlust involves going shopping then repeating a mantra, the question becomes even more pressing. It's just not worth the trip.
- The music is calming and the game is largely inoffensive.
- The writing is inoffensive to the point of absolute boredom where there's nothing to hold onto with the characters.
- Limited options for travel and forced character reactions means there's little reason to replay any section once you've completed it.
Prognosis is Fair