Whispering Willows
Gameplay 8
Graphics 8
Sound 8

Whispering Willows is not a game that is going to keep you on the edge of your seat from excitement, but the slower pace and interesting story make for an engrossing experience. Unraveling the mysteries of Willows Mansion and communicating with the lost souls that dwell there is a unique experience and one that kept me hooked from start to finish. If you demand quick reflexes or mind bending puzzles to be entertained the game will probably feel boring to you, but if you can appreciate a slower paced, engrossing experience this is a great title to add to your collection.

Gameplay: Slow paced, but very engrossing.

Graphics: Beautiful artwork for the characters and backgrounds.

Sound: The soundtrack is very atmospheric and the sound effects excellent

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Whispering Willows

Developer: Night Light Interactive | Publisher: Night Light Interactive | Release Date: 2014 | Genre: Adventure / Indie | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Steam

After the mysterious disappearance of her father, Elena Elkhorn has a nightmare that about him. In her dream she sees her father trapped in the Willows Mansion where he worked as the groundskeeper, so upon waking she immediately sets out to find him. Arriving at her destination, she encounters a ghostly apparition that causes her to stumble and fall into the catacombs beneath the mansion which is where her adventure begins.

As Elena you must explore the Willows Mansion and surrounding area for clues about the whereabouts of her father. Her quest is made more interesting thanks to an amulet that she received from her father, which alerts her to the presence of ghosts and allows her to communicate with these lost souls through astral projection. In her ghostly form Elena can also possess objects such as switches or furniture to solve puzzles or turn into an orb and float through gaps that is too small for her physical body. I was expecting a few more puzzles based around the whole astral projection concept, but the ones in the game are relatively straightforward. Talking to the dead is a blast though, thanks to the excellent character designs and each one of the spirits has their own reasons for haunting the mansion. The phantoms you encounter mostly serve to provide you with clues about what to do next, but you will also discover notes that flesh out the history of the mansion and the tragedies of the restless souls that inhabit it.

The game looks great thanks to the hand-drawn visuals and as I’ve mentioned the character designs are excellent. The backgrounds are a bit static, but packed with details which make exploring the gameworld really engrossing. There are very few enemies and no combat, so the bulk of the game is centered on exploring your surroundings and finding the necessary items to proceed. There is a fair bit of backtracking involved, but overall the game is quite linear and I never had any doubts about where to go next. Elena has a diary which you can consult to learn more about what is happening and all the notes you collect can also be viewed at any time. There is no map, but I never felt like I really needed one and the different areas are distinct enough that it wasn’t a problem remembering where to use objects I acquired. The developers even hid a few logos and items in the game that can be uncovered if you are extra thorough while exploring.

The pace of the game is quite slow which might frustrate some players who expect this to be an action oriented title. Elena can run if the circumstances require it, but this happens very infrequently. She can also be killed by certain enemies, but these sequences are only a few small part of the overall game. The game has a very creepy atmosphere, but there is very little outright horror and I can’t say that I encountered any real scares while playing. As the puzzles are so straightforward, it is very easy to rush through the game which is not recommended as it is quite short.

Thanks to the haunting music and excellent sound effects I found myself frequently stopping just to admire the environments and soak in the atmosphere. The game sounds great with a decent set of headphones and while there is no speech Elena reacts with gasps, sighs or laughter to certain situations. The game automatically saves in certain spots and is split into four different chapters, so I would advise players to take their time and thoroughly explore their surroundings as it is easy to miss some notes or miss out on the hidden stuff. At the time of writing this review the game doesn’t feature controller support, although this is something that the developers are looking to implement. You only use one button to activate your astral powers and another to interact with objects so playing with a keyboard is perfectly serviceable, but I definitely missed the freedom of playing the game while lounging on the couch.

I expected Whispering Willows to either be a platform or point and click adventure title, so discovering that it is something completely different was a pleasant surprise. It does share some elements with both genres, but the slower pace and lack of any serious puzzles makes for a different experience. One of my favorite games from the NES era was The Addams Family game which required players to explore a mansion and gather items to unlock new rooms and Whispering Willows offered a similarly engrossing experience albeit at a much slower pace and without any platforming skills required.

While it is clear that the game was made by a small Indie team with a limited budget, it is also very apparent that there was a lot of heart involved and for a debut outing it is quite an impressive effort. It’s not flawless and probably won’t appeal to action junkies, but the great art direction, outstanding audio and engrossing story make it stand out from the crowd. It is also heartening to see the developers actively responding to feedback and addressing issues brought to their attention. I enjoyed the game enough to complete it in one sitting and based on what the developers were able to achieve for their first title I can’t wait to see what they will deliver next.

*Review originally published July 2014 based on version 1.14 of the game.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows 7
  • Processor: 2 cpus 2.3 Ghz to 2.69 Ghz
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000 or higher
  • Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
  • OS: 10.7 or higher
  • Processor: 2 cpus 2.3 Ghz to 2.69 Ghz
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000 or higher
  • Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
  • Processor: 2 cpus 2.3 Ghz to 2.69 Ghz
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000 or higher
  • Hard Drive: 3 GB available space

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