The Wild at Heart Review – Is This a Pikmin?
Developed by Moonlight Kids
Published by Humble Games
Available on PC, Xbox One
I’ve never played Pikmin. I can kind of guess at what it’s like, based on videos I’ve seen. I assume you control a little army of Pikmin and make them solve puzzles and do murders for you. The Wild at Heart is kind of the same. I can verify this because I asked site owner Ted Hentschke, who confirmed I was thinking of Pikmin. The Wild at Heart does a lot of things right. You’ve got a kind of Bridge to Terabithia story, with a young man escaping a bad home situation and stumbling into a magic forest kingdom full of delightful weirdos.
You play as Wake, a young person who has decided he needs to run away from home. Not a lot of backstory is given as to why. The small flashbacks you get in the opening do allude to a father who just doesn’t care, and an absent mother. It’s fairly heavy for such a whimsical game. You set out to live in the woods with your friend Kirby. Nothing, in the beginning, is said about Kirby or their backstory as well. Nary a flashback is provided to clear up the Kirby situation. It’s fine, it comes in later, don’t worry.
So you wander off into the forest and suddenly, you don’t recognize anything. These aren’t the woods you’re used to. You’ve entered the Deep Woods. The Deep Woods are home to ancient forest spirits and other folks who have become lost in the forest. They may have gotten lost in the forest, but they’re not sad about it. They’ve built somewhat of a civilization. You’ll first meet Grey Coat, a kindly old man and de facto leader of the green shields, an order built to keep the Deep Forest safe from The Never.
The Never is where the game branches into spooky. The Never is less a place and more of an entity. It lives in the dark corners of the world and destroys everything it sees. On your first night in the Deep Forest, you get a feel for The Never. A scrap hauler who is part of the green shields whisks you towards safety. You have to stay surrounded by light lest The Never eats you up. Even the spooky bits look adorable. The art style is a cartoon-y 2.5d joy. It evokes feelings of fall. It really reminds me of Over the Garden Wall, if you’ve seen that. The isometric view lets you observe the world around you pretty well and comes in handy for what’s about to happen.
You’ll be introduced to adorable little monsters. They have furry legs and little antlers. They’re like satyrs but cool. These are spritelings. They’ll be your constant companions in The Wild at Heart. At first, you have just a few that hang out with you. You can toss them at problems to make them go away. This is the bread and butter core experience of The Wild at Heart. Once again, I’m told that it’s like Pikmin. You’ll be moving around a pretty dang open world. You’ll end up in the green shields’ main settlement. It’s trashed. It’s obviously fallen into disrepair. Grey Coat will explain that everything is messed up and it’s up to you, the strange boy that wandered into the forest, to fix it.
The Wild at Heart features some pretty solid crafting. You’ll find items around the world – mainly fruits – and they can be combined to make healing items. You’ll also be finding monster parts to use as well. You can send your spritelings out to do murders for you. I have to admit, there’s a weird sadistic joy that comes from sending these cute little things to absolutely overwhelm the creatures of the forest. Your spritelings can and will “die”. I put that in quotations because the game makes a big show of letting you know that spritelings never die. They just return to the soul of the forest. Once again, adorable to a fault.
The music is this chill forestscape that fits the gameplay so well I’d imagine it came well before the gameplay. Gentle percussion and the occasional flute add a bit of levity to the proceedings. After hitting the hub world and talking to the characters who make it up, you’ll be tasked with finding lost green shields. You see, the former leader of the green shields, “Stick Figures”, was a powerful witch. She “died” and became part of the soul of the forest. She’s been holding back the never for a very long time, and her grasp is slipping. Grey Coat explains that the green shields are losing their memories, and other faculties (they all forgot how to read. That’s important).
Stick Figures has seen something in young Wake, and he must go find the lost and confused green shields and return them to the hub. He also needs to find items to rebuild. This aspect is actually really fun. You’ll occasionally find something weird like a giant shell, or an abandoned camper. if you throw enough spritelings at it, they’ll carry it slowly back to the hub to be used in construction. Oh yeah, there are different kinds of spritelings! If you thought the vanilla spriteling was adorable, how about a fire spriteling? Or maybe an ice spriteling? You’ll be moving through different biomes, and choosing the right spriteling for the job is important. Spritelings aren’t free. You’ll be using pips you find throughout the world to summon them. This will cost soul points. I can’t remember the proper name of them, but they’re glowy and blue and you’ll need them to summon spritellings.
When you’re short on spritelings but want to throw down, there’s a kick button. It’s a super ineffective kick and you’re honestly better off letting the spritelings do the work. When it comes to collecting crafting items and gold nuts and bolts – oh yeah did I mention that? There is a secondary currency in The Wild at Heart. It’s gold nuts and bolts, like Ratchet and Clank. You’ll be using this currency to build houses in the hub, and to upgrade your vacuum. Oh yeah, you have a vacuum. It’s used to pull your spritelings back to you and solve puzzles. Spritelings absolute can get lost. The game will guilt you into finding them. If nighttime is approaching, and you try to sleep at one of the campsites dotting the world, you’ll get a message that you’re leaving a spriteling or two out in the wild to surely be brutalized by The Never. It works. I’ve dragged my ass back through The Never to get one spriteling who just didn’t listen when I tapped it on the shoulder and said, “hey, The Never is coming, let’s roll”.
All in all, I think The Wild at Heart is amazing. It’s chill, spooky, and adorable. It meshes mythology about forest spirits with teen angst and I love it. You can always check it out yourself. I’m gonna go back to watching my spriteling horde terrorize the creatures of the forest.