Wanderlust: Rebirth was conceived on August 1st, 2006, the mutt offspring of a half-dozen radically different games ranging from fantasy games like Zelda: Four Swords and Diablo to more modern games like Rainbow Six: Vegas and Project Gotham Racing.
Natural Selection would never have let something this mutated take a step past the womb…
But now, nearly two years later, with the release of the 2 chapter Beta release,
Wanderlust: Rebirth is a creature of beauty. The two lead developers, Matthew Griffin and Jason Gordy, along with the 4 other members who make up “Team Wanderlust,” have carefully pruned and manicured their dream co-op RPG into a fantastic creature torn straight from the old quarter-guzzling arcades of youth.
I won’t lie – W:R can be a frustrating game from a single-player point of view. It’s not impossible to play alone, however you’ll struggle to find comfort in that fact the tenth time you get killed by a gang of gladiators. But then again, W:R was meant to be a shared experience, and with four different character classes to pick from team-work makes for a much more enjoyable experience than one might encounter alone.
W:R begins with the player(s) arriving at an invitational arena tournament in the city of Westhaven, and it is here that they will first taste combat against such enemies as wolves, gladiators, and eventually even go toe to toe with a bear. Combat begins as just a typical hack â€˜n slash, but as the player advances in the game, they can unlock new attacks and spells. Another interesting aspect of W:R‘s combat system is the “Tide of Battle,” which changes as players hit or get hit more in battle, giving damage and health bonuses and penalties based on how well a certain character is doing. If a character does well enough and the Tide of Battle is on their side for long enough, they can charge up a Soul Charge, which can then be released to perform a special ability, such as increasing teammates’ chances to do a Critical Hit or resurrecting dead players. The Tide of Battle affects all participants, including the game’s AI, and an AI that is doing very poorly may even try to flee from the players’ characters.
Upon being declared the champion of the tournament, the player is approached by a messenger of the king and invited to a celebration at the castle and… this is the end of chapter 1. At the end of each chapter, all participating players are graded according to what “awards” (achievements such as high-hit combos or dealing massive damage) they received throughout the chapter, how many times they died, and other items such as side quests performed and finding hidden coins throughout the chapter. This scoring determines how many Character Points (CP) the player receives. These CPs can then be used to upgrade the stats of the character or to develop new skills and attacks, making the character more powerful. Another item to note is that a “100%” can be earned on each chapter, not only for playing it with 1-2 players, but again for playing it with a party of 3 or 4 players, so you can “max” out each chapter with up to 2 gold stars.
So, since this is only an “open Beta” release, what is already available, and what can players look forward to in the final release? Well, as of right now, players can only play through the first 2 of 14 proposed chapters, but you can play any of the four classes. These classes include the Fighter, the Alchemist, the Healer, and the Elementalist. While the Fighter class is more of a simple hack-and-slash, the Alchemist throws â€œpotionsâ€ which work as grenades, damaging, stunning or otherwise affecting enemies. The Healerâ€¦ as her name implies, has the ability to heal, yet can also strike down her foes with holy spells. Whether it be simply healing her party members, buffing theirs stats with enchantments, or summoning a guardian angel to fight by their side, this is one character not to be overlooked. Last but not least, the Elementalist is the mage-character: by chaining together runes from a circular menu, the Elementalist can summon spells ranging from ally creatures to flaming meteors from above. Each party member has a different role, and as a result the make-up of a team determines their fighting style in the campaign.
In reference to the 2 chapters available at the moment, the promised size of the entire W:R world is amazing, and the world map shows just how many opportunities are possible for exploration and quests when the final version comes out. According to Jason Gordy, the first two chapters playable right now cover only about 2% of the total explorable space.
W:R isnâ€™t totally about co-operating however, and there is currently a simple PvP system present in the game under the title of â€œChampion Training.â€ Here, you can fight against other player in a number of arenas, rather than fighting alongside them as in Story Mode. Players can use any character or class they want, and once in combat, they will have all of their characterâ€™s possible abilities/attacks/spells unlocked, whether they have unlocked them in Story Mode or not. While this PvP mode is still rather young in development, the team plans to implement a more-involved mode in future releases.
Every aspect of the game shines. Most prominently of course is the art of the game, such the colorful and incredibly detailed pixel-art done by Gordy and which is reminiscent of old SNES or Gameboy RPGs. It really brings a sort of nostalgia to see such dedicatedly designed pixel-art. Also, not to be overlooked, the amazing hand-drawn portraits and cut scenes done by artist Aaron Connell add great atmosphere by providing detailed vistas of the world of Wanderlust.
Another facet of the artistic polish this game has received is in the sound aspect. While not over powering, the audio of W:R has been worked into a powerful ambiance. The music, provided by Skyler Stone, provides a nice slice of the culture and mood of W:R, and the wonderful sound effects by Cole Medeiros really make combat come to life, as each slash of the sword and each cast of a spell sounding natural and clear. Again, it all brings a sense of the games of old.
Also notable about Team Wanderlust is perhaps its most unusual member. As a hacker of W:R who continually riled up fellow game players, Charles Daffern soon drew the attention of Griffin and Gordy who quickly brought him into the team to act as “security tester,” promising to make this game perhaps the most hack-resistant GameMaker project to date.
Even the matchmaking system employed by the game works well. Griffin and Gordy have chosen to utilize Reflect Games’ “Reflect Account System” to provide an easy way for players to group up online. Once in game, player communication is easy and very well done, with player chat appearing similarly to how it does when talking to an NPC; with a speech-box appearing next to the speaking character’s portrait. W:R is also full of cute humor and subtle (and not so subtle – yes, this means you Jar-Jar!) homages to popular culture and earlier games. Players of the developers’ earlier title – Wanderlust: The Online Adventure (which had an epic following over at GMC, with a thread of 147 pages) – will also find many references in
With its fantasy setting and co-op slashing, W:R‘s origins can easily be drawn to games like Zelda and Diablo, but where do games like Rainbow Six: Vegas and PGRacing come in? Well, Rainbow Six: Vegas’s heavy co-op gameplay inspired a similar stress on teamwork in W:R, and Project Gotham’s influence comes from its “Kudos” system, which rewards players for good driving, regardless of how they place in the race. In W:R, exp is gained mainly through teamwork, rather than per kill. Griffin and Gordy mixed and matched these different traits and ideas to create what they hope will be a “focused co-op experience.”
“We’re making the co-op RPG that we want to play,” says Griffin. “Turns out, other people want to play it too.”