This Saturday of mine was more or less stolen by the Australian studio Prideful Sloth and their debut game Yonder: The Cloud Catch Chronicles. It’s a story about a youngster – boy or a girl, as the player chooses – who shipwrecks on a decent-sized island full of wonders and trouble. Actually, mostly just wonders. Sure, there are random spots taken over by ominous purple fog, and the most massive monument on the island, known as the Cloud Catcher, is in pieces but surely a haphazard hero with an allure to draw in utterly cute spirits will set things straight.
Yonder is remarkably mellow in its way of not featuring combat or danger whatsoever; it’s all about exploring one beautiful scenery after another while hoarding loads of resources. The local NPCs welcome the player with open arms, soon gifting him/her with a mallet, an axe, a pickaxe, a scythe, and even a fishing rod. That quintet is more than enough to harvest pretty much anything that cannot be picked up otherwise, so the first few hours are merrily spent just running around picking up a myriad of stuff. Of course, individual items are hardly usable by themselves so making use of craftsmanship and new recipes, they’re turned into more complex fabrications. The handy hero can even restore run-down farms to construct fields for veggies or stalls for the local wildlife, first tamed with their favorite food and then led to the farm to contribute for the greater good.
Not only do the residents want their cloud thingy fixed, they’re also a steady source of side missions. Even if those are essentially just variations of “fetch/build me this”, they keep the game rolling quite nicely. An industrious explorer can also find dozens of cats waiting to be rescued, as well as spirits that use power by numbers to purge the island of its depressing spots of purple. Not that those spots would be lethal or anything; they’re just an eyesore that needs to go away from a world otherwise so bright and jolly.
All this lovable pacifism is reinforced with online. Contact with other players only happens via geocaches they’ve left behind. Wherever you are, you can always select an item from your inventory to be found by someone else. It’s such a gratuitous and unselfish act that I used it a lot, purely out of sheer joy. Whenever you bump into a gift left by a fellow player you don’t even know, and especially when it’s something grand from your own perspective, it feels as cool as the unspoken bond in Journey!
Enthralled by all this, I wolfed down the roughly seven-hour story mode in one sitting, only to be left at a standstill after that. While post-game would be the perfect moment to genuinely start enjoying the world of Yonder, it’s also the moment when its weaknesses start shining through. Not until this point did I realize just how horrible the map design truly is. When trying to get to a point that is seemingly nearby, it’s easy to spend 15 minutes going around all sorts of insurmountable obstacles only to realize you’re now twice as far away from your original goal. Also, should you want to construct something, it’s way too easy to not have a single ingredient which then requires a couple of other ingredients which then require 3-4 other ingredients, and while trying to cope with all that, the game whines about how your backpack is full and could use unloading at the nearest farm and the nearest farm is not really that near at all and… No… Just… No. Most of this isn’t apparent during the story when everything is new and lovely but as soon as the end credits have rolled, the remaining content turns downright repulsive.
Prideful Sloth still gets two thumbs up for their absolutely lovely angle but for the next game, more streamlined inventory management and a more navigable map are a must.