There hasn’t been a single game on the Switch eShop which has shown more promise to this reviewer than Windbound.
Visually appearing akin to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while having a seafaring setting that looked something like a blend between Wind Waker and Disney’s Moana, there was no way that Koch Media’s survival-based action-adventure could go wrong.
But those high hopes have proven to be premature.
Playing as Kara, it is your task to negotiate a fairly barren sea dotted with small islands each inhabited by a very small handful of monsters. Remember the likes of Windfall Island, Dragon Roost Island, and the rest from Wind Waker? They were bustling with characterful towns and memorable NPCs which made every single player miss them once they sailed away aboard the King of Red Lions. There’s nothing of the sort in Windbound – it’s a bland, forgettable experience hampered by the vacuous nature of its procedurally-generated islands. You have to harvest materials in order to fashion weapons and other tools, most notably your boat, which you must then hop aboard to sail without a set destination in the hope that an island appears on the horizon.
That’s the thing with the exploration – with a totally unpopulated map to begin with, you must slowly negotiate the sea in order to find out what’s around. The circumference of the map for each level isn’t massive, but commanding the boat is painfully slow, enough to make it seem as wide as Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule. Harvest enough materials from the islands and you’ll be able to craft other items, the most notable of which is, of course, the boat, which you can later craft sails and other add-ons for. Prior to your addition of a sail, you hold the ZR button to painstakingly drift from island to island. But unlike in Wind Waker, where adding the sail makes your ship an absolute bastion of the seas, in Windbound you have to worry about loosening and tightening the sail and have to do a really irritating zig-zagging sailing motion in order to contend with the wind that is blowing the wrong way. It’s really a cheap way of padding out the game’s run time, and it really serves to distract that there’s not much to be getting on with anyway.
That’s because each level centres on finding three islands on the map which have towers that must be activated to generate a staircase on the final island, used to ascend to the goal. Some lesser islands may have stones which can up your base health bar, your base stamina bar, or blue crystal-like things which can be spent on upgrades and abilities at the end of each level. But each level was a rinse and repeat of that formula – sail around and find the towers before ascending the steps – and never before has the boredom set in quicker.
The survival aspect of Windbound is one of the major factors that make this game such a chore. Combat is very limited and infrequent but is awkward – there’s no satisfying locking-on sense, and throwing projectiles can prove to be very wayward. But you don’t even need to engage in fighting for your stamina to drop, and that’s an inexplicable pain in the ass. Imagine if every fifteen minutes in Wind Waker you had to find a bathroom for Link to find some relief? It’s the same premise. Not fun at all.
And with all that promise, and the beautiful Zelda-inspired visuals, it’s a shame that this is such a dull experience. I kept an open mind on the survival elements, hoping they would be counter-balanced with mystery and adventure. They were both in short supply throughout.
Windbound promises so much with beautiful Zelda-like visuals, but visuals alone do not make for a great game. The survival and rogue-like aspects detract from this game’s personality, and a miserable, repetitive search across each level make the game a bore.