Wayward Strand - Beautifully Sedate
Wayward Strand recognises the power of objects. As you visit the elderly patients of this floating hospital/hospice, the collected relics of a person’s life are concentrated in one room. An author naturally fills his with a desk, dictaphone and books. Mysterious trophies watching over a jungle-like mass of green speak of another patient’s preference for the company of plants. While in another corner a kind old lady sits on her ornate sofa and knits an endless scarf. The room of the terminally ill ex-doctor is sterile and cold in comparison, a reflection of her unconcealed anger at the world. And then there is the pleasant old bloke with an accent who must have lived a full, rich life if his collected artworks, souvenirs, and historical artifacts are anything to go by.
These patients all have names, and you will come to know them, but it’s best to not get too specific because much of the pleasure of Wayward Strand comes from knowing nothing and slowly learning a little until the echoes of these people’s lives unfurl. It is a game that juxtaposes the lilted innocence of your controlled protagonist, Casey, against the weary residents of this hospital in the sky – a concept that could never be viable in real life, but which works perfectly here to create intimacy.
There is a sedate pace to the narrative threads that create just enough gameplay in the form of choosing conversation options or limited actions for Casey to undertake. It soon relaxes you into the unhurried rhythm of a voyeuristic peek into the lives of a handful of people circling life’s drain. While time is constantly moving, and there’s no way to catch simultaneous events, there’s rarely a feeling of missing out, mostly because you will be invested in whoever Casey happens to be with and – more importantly – what they have to say. You might want to mainline asking about the history of the airship itself or, alternatively, try to weasel out of people more information about their lives. Conversation options do not hang around forever and will naturally end after a few responses, after which you can just chill for a bit or excuse yourself politely to explore elsewhere. Most patients are quite friendly, with those who are not providing just enough cantankerousness for Casey to ask others why they are so upset. Perhaps you will discover answers, perhaps not.
An entirely valid way to play is to just tail one character per playthrough, seeing what they get up to, listening in on their conversations, and seeing what happens in their room when they get a visit from the nurse. Another is to wander around and happen across phone calls, wheelchair walks or just a calm outlook from the deck. The airship is small enough that even when you are in the middle of something inside a room, the sound of a nearby conversation, or perhaps some music, breaks through at a low level, enough to make it feel like there is a gentle hum of action, even if quite often you can wander through its three main levels and find very little that is new.
Casey’s notebook is constantly scratching away, giving you a timeline for the characters and events of each day. The game probably wants you to play through it several times to follow all the characters, but I feel that it’s also perfectly valid to just go through it once or twice. You will miss a lot, but this adds to the experience, as there will be unanswered questions that linger after you’ve finished.
Wayward Strand features beautiful, chalk-like paintings between chapters that set the scene, with the rest of the game employing a comic-like aesthetic, right down to a textured background of recycled paper. It features gangly animations that look somewhere in the vicinity of a character made in Drawn to Life. This is not to say that it feels cheap or underdone. If characters clip through each other or objects in the room, the base charm of Wayward Strand allows your imagination to impressionistically blur such details as quite acceptable.
One annoyance relates to the saving system. I lost a good chunk of play because I did not understand that saves only happen at the end of each full day, which can equate to at least an hour of real-time. My son playing Mario Kart on the weekend meant that I had to restart my review run completely, locking me into only playing Wayward Strand until each save moment. It’s a bit of a shock in this age of almost universal autosaves, especially on a system that encourages portable, short-burst play. I would have also liked the ability to cancel certain locked-in actions, such as not taking several in-game minutes to ascend and then descend the same stairs because of an accidental button press. These complaints rest low on the scale, though, and I found myself pleasantly engaged with Wayward Strand for its entire short length.
Wayward Strand was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with code kindly supplied by the publisher.