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Witch Stranding’s review: a cursed but magical Strand-like

Witch Stranding’s review: a cursed but magical Strand-like

During the approximately 100 hours I have spent on Death Stranding over the past couple of years, I have often wondered about the condition of Sam Bridges’ limbs. Specifically, the load they must be under carries the absurdly high pillars of metal-enclosed packages up and down the slopes of post-apocalyptic America. If I was in his mountain boots, I’m not sure all the reinforced skeletons in the world would help me achieve the same kind of porter skills he plays around the place, at least not based on how sore and tired I am. Dinky little wrists is after a couple of hours playing Strange Scaffold’s new beach game, Witch Strandings. Yes that is correct. Someone other than Hideo Kojima has created a so-called Strand-like, and it is possibly the strangest game you will play all year.

To be fair, I probably just need to get a newer, smoother mouse pad that does not have a raised fabric edge to constantly rub against my arm. It may sound like a worker blaming her tools, but the fact is that Witch Strandings is a surprising physical game that goes all-in with swiping, sliding and moving the mouse around to navigate the cursed forest of tiled squares. As you may have read in my interview with studio manager Xalavier Nelson Jr last month, Witch Strandings cannot be played with a keyboard or controls. You will occasionally press G to stuff an item you find on the forest floor into the bag with one opening (when you bought it, that is), but that’s all. Everything else is controlled completely through your mouse, from movement to carrying objects and depositing them at the intended location.

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The larger and more powerful your swipes, for example, the faster you move across the screen. If, on the other hand, you give the mouse a little push and push, your light bulb will move over only a few squares, giving you greater control over your movements and making you less likely to throw yourself blindly into its deadly thicket of poisonous thorns. quicksand and gnarled thorns. It’s a strange tactile and frictional experience given that there is no rumbling or physical feedback involved, and the way Strange Scaffold has managed to recreate the feeling of pushing towards a thick, impenetrable stream of sight alone is a remarkable feat of playfulness and design.

Fortunately, Witch Strandings is nowhere near as involved or intense as Kojima’s nationwide hiking swim, and it only takes me three or four hours to see it to the final text. As such, depending on which mouse pad you choose, your wrists may well be spared the same type of mouse pad burn that I occasionally rubbed against while playing this for review. In fact, if this Strand-like had been another 100-hour epic, I fear that my wrist would be nothing more than a ragged shard of bone and mulch now – a gloomy but appropriate picture, really, given the condition of the forest you are in.

A ball of light flies through a cursed forest in Witch Strandings

Cursed by the titular witch, this foresighted landscape is not a happy place. Immersed in all sorts of life-threatening obstacles, its resident animal people also need some TLC. The rabbit Heather tries to believe in brighter days. Donna tries to move on from ex Deer by writing, and I quote, “break-up songs in her head that he never lets her sing”. Ugla Bahar is just trying to get some sleep again. The bear Erik only does his best, while Mothman wedges away “in a darkness of his own creation”. The list goes on, and each animal’s state of mind will slowly change and change every day you help them.

You do not have to help these animals if you do not want to. Heck, you can even put them out of their misery altogether if you want.

You do this by delivering things to them, matching them with the item that will cure the diseases of the day by dragging and dropping it across the map. Sometimes they will be hungry or thirsty, in which case some nice berries or meat will do the trick. Other times they will be sick, injured or, more worryingly, disturbed, so you may need to find a soft blanket, wrap, medicine or water skin instead. You will find those that germinate, grow and gather in different areas around the forest, but often in different places in relation to the animal in question. Every day, another disease reappears, creating a mild loop of care and repair that goes hand in hand with restoring the forest.

I should mention that you do not have to help these animals if you do not want to. Heck, you can even put them completely out of their misery if you want – and that extends to the witch herself. You do not have to save this forest at all. Sure, you have to use the same drag-and-drop techniques on the forest’s itchy miasmic forces to find its hermitic witch, who wipes out grid squares with haunted mycelium claws and gnarled rods to penetrate the deadly sea of ​​hexagon and quicksand tiles , but what you choose to do with your forest is ultimately up to you.

A light bulb meets a squirrel named Chad Shakespeare in Witch Strandings.

For my part, I enjoyed the game’s playful tension between hopeless despair and cautious optimism. At first glance, it does a fantastic job of making you feel out of depth. Its intense purple color scheme, throbbing pink hexagon zones and menacing black vines that wrap ominously around the edge of your screen all point to a doomed lost cause, as does the strange and abrasive interface from top to bottom.

But then you get to know the place, and combined with the enigmatic notes you find strewn around its abstract structures that go back to better days, it all starts to feel like a place worth fighting for. Its hard-edged walls merge into the off-white capillaries of an ever-changing canopy, wetlands give way to dunes and wastelands, and soon you whistle through the bends and valleys that no one has to deal with. This scary mass of squares has become a living, breathing place in your head, and while it may not look like Death Stranding, you go through the same movements. All of Kojima’s central Strand principles have been distilled with deft precision here, with Strange Scaffold recreating Sam’s journey in miniature (albeit 100 times weirder) while conquering the landscape by engaging in it and understanding it. The most important difference is that here you have a choice about what to do with that knowledge: store it, or let it rot in obscurity.

A roll rolls out over a screen with purple tiles in Witch Strandings

It’s worth staying around in the woods when you’ve actually tackled the witch as well. Like the inhabitants of Death Stranding, Witch Strandings’ animal people still need someone to take care of them every day, so that you can constantly increase your score, but their behavior and local environment also change in concrete and noticeable ways. You begin to see the effect your craft has had on them more clearly, and the complementary icon clarifier in me wants to see what a completely clean, hexagon-free forest looks like. So I think I’ll stay a little longer in this strange, haunted forest. My wrist may not thank me for that, but I’m sure a soft blanket will cure my sore legs.


Disclosure: Strange Scaffolds Xalavier Nelson Jr. has written for RPS many times before.

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