While watching the trailer for Wailing Heights, it’s difficult not to draw a few assumptions. The comic-book style visuals are interesting, but the premise – self-described as “a coffin-rocking, body-hopping, musical adventure” – just seems silly. The knee-jerk reaction would be to write the game off, but it turns out to be a charming little detour from the world of “serious” games.
I will say upfront that Wailing Heights can best be described as a wacky B-movie (B-game?), complete with odd bugs in the gameplay mechanics, visual glitches, and voice acting mixups. If you are not a fan of campy, then this may not be a good buy. However, if you like the idea of playing through an odd Scooby Doo episode, then Wailing Heights was made for you.
Everything begins with the opening video showing you, Frances Finklestein, as the washed-up manager of the popular 60s rock band, The Deadbeats. Every member of The Deadbeats has now died, and Finklestein is on the hunt for any gig he can possibly find. Cue the mysterious phone call with directions to host a show in the completely unheard of town of Wailing Heights. Events transpire, and you end up in a jail in the town, presented with the problem of trying to escape. For the low price of a biscuit, you are handed the power to possess various beings to further that end.
Once you are able to control Finklestein and possess your first character, you are able to explore the very small town. This is where the first issue I had with the game came up. The screen tips assume you are using a controller – very annoying when you are just using your trusty mouse and keyboard! I had to pause and go into a different menu screen to find the keyboard/mouse equivalents to the controller prompts I was being given. Once that was established, it was relatively smooth sailing onto the first puzzle.
Maybe it was too early on a Saturday morning, but I hadn’t even realized a puzzle started until I was well into it. This is my only tip for the game: talk to everyone multiple times. Only then will you get the clues and items you need to complete the possession songs. You will need the actual items, not just the names of them. So if a character mentions she hates clotted cream after talking to her about six times, you then need to speak to everyone multiple times to get your hands on some clotted cream for the possession.
One thing I love about having to speak to every citizen of Wailing Heights is that the dialogues actually use voice acting, even if it is a bit over the top sometimes. This saves the game from being a long interactive book, and selecting your own dialogue gives it a bit of a “choose your own adventure” feel. Although, I suspect that the choices you make have very little impact on anything other than the order of the conversations you have. Eventually, you will have to cycle through all of the options anyway.
I also love the comic book style visuals and character personalities. These help to build the world and keep the game interesting as you chuckle at cheesy references and snide comments. For better or worse, everything is a pun on top of a pun on top of a pun here. Pay attention to little details like building signs to get the full effect.
Of course, music plays a huge role in the game and some of the songs can get repetitive. In fact, certain possession songs, like Soul’s, can get downright annoying. It’s unfortunate that his song just happens to be the one you hear the most. Around the tenth time I had to possess Soul, I actually muted my speakers for a few seconds to save my sanity. But overall, I found the soundtrack fun and even a little catchy. I wish there had been more tracks in the game like “We Are The Deadbeats.”
The game is also very linear. Basically, you are given a task and it’s the only thing you can do. You can’t go and do another puzzle/mission instead. Given the very specific story goal of the game, this is to be expected, so it wasn’t too much of a downer.
It is, however, quite frustrating to be stuck on a puzzle for a long time and unable to go do something else instead. There was one point I felt I had talked to every single character I had ever met about a dozen times and still couldn’t complete the current puzzle. Being able to do something else and then come back to it would have been very nice!
But for all its flaws (which actually add to its B movie nature), Wailing Heights is a really nice reprieve from the typical games of today. The characters are lovable, the level of snark in everything from the conception to the acting is fun, and the visuals are very well done. The cut scenes offer a fresh way to deliver non-playable aspects of the story, and the twists in the plot keep things interesting. At the price of $9.99, I would recommend that fans of puzzle adventure games, or anyone looking for something very different, give it a try.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.