Whateverland is a point and click adventure inspired by classics of the golden era. Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and others from the unforgettable LucasFilm and Sierra studios will come to mind by those who dare to play Vincent’s bizarre trip into the weird limbo-like prison known as Whateverland. Expect plenty of dark humor, odd characters, and puzzles that can be ingenious and frustrating in equal measure.
Once Upon a Time in Whateverland
Vincent is a petty thief that picked the wrong target for his next heist. Caught red-handed by Beatrice, he is tossed into this magical prison from where no one ever escapes… unless he collects some spell fragments and summons Beatrice to ask for a return ticket to the land of the living. If this sounds completely wacky, that’s because it is, and it is one of the things that Whateverland has in its favor. This almost feels like playing a nightmare designed by Tim Burton, coupled with the occasional wit that only Ron Gilbert could deliver. In some sense it works, with some impressive exchanges between Vincent and his newfound friend and travel companion, Shakesperean half-ghost Nick.
It's not a linear game either; you can take Vincent down his regular path of treachery and stealing, or instead help the denizens to win the spell fragments fair and square. You can use the map to visit the locations that you wish, and although there’s no way to challenge some inhabitants before you go over some actions in a specific order, it’s enjoyable to have a certain degree of freedom in your travels.
But that’s only when you can look beyond the glaring flaws and bugs that pervade the experience. The admittedly inventive puzzles may be the main culprits here, but there’s a lot more to hinder this experience in a way that ultimately puts the enjoyment level in limbo, pun intended.
Tale the Bell and Bones mini-game, one that you’ll have to play several times throughout your adventure. My first contact with it was a hair-pulling experience, as I couldn’t even move my characters on the board. Think of it as a mix between chess and basketball, but my units were frozen and there was no way for me to make a move. Luckily, you’ll find these yarn balls across Whateverland that can be used to score an instant win at Bell and Bones, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to progress at all. Later, as I faced another dweller, the Bell and Bones game did work as intended, so there’s definitely some annoying glitch at work here.
But that’s not the full extent of it, as some extremely obvious design decisions seem to have fallen off the wayside. For example, when clicking an interaction point, the view, pick up, talk, and return icons (among others) pop up, but we are forced to press the return icon to hide this interface and move again. It would be much more intuitive to do so by right-clicking, or even by clicking anywhere on the screen with the left mouse button. Since for some reason you can’t walk until you close the interaction pop up, this becomes something of a nuisance.
During dialogues, it’s usual for veteran adventure game players to speed up the text by clicking, showing the full dialogue text instantly. However, there’s no such thing here; your only option is to wait for the text to slowly appear or to press the button to cut the text short and skip to the next part of the dialogue. This is an oversight that may frustrate any true fan of point and click games, especially those who are fast readers.
Exit warnings are non-existent as well, something that usually is very helpful in with a somewhat outlandish art style, just like this one. Be prepared to spend some time running to the edge of the screen just to check if there’s a passage somewhere, an unsuspecting room that you may end up missing because you thought the location had nothing else in store for you.
I also witnessed a weird bug that thankfully didn’t return during any subsequent session. Out of the blue, the mouse cursor suddenly started slowly moving upwards, as if a ghostly presence was pushing it. I know that Whateverland is a place filled with supernatural occurrences, but I doubt that this one was intended. A restart didn’t fix this, but a day later there was no sign of this short-lived but annoying mouse-moving entity.
Come Whatever May
Whateverland does deserve some praise, especially over the degree of inventiveness in some puzzles, both in terms of variety and sheer visual delight. It’s not easy to pinpoint a highlight, but I could mention the gallery room challenge, which is incredibly clever and fun to watch. Standing in front of over a dozen paintings, you must find out how to interact with them to create a chain of events that will clear the path for our jester, who is trying to reach the princess on the other side of the room. As you sink a pirate ship and imprison a leopard, our little hero will trot from painting to painting until he finally reaches his love, as if a short, weird story unfolded right before your eyes. Whateverland doesn’t skimp on the craziness with these puzzles, despite an odd lack of proper info at the start of most puzzles.
The lack of actual instructions is something that irked me the most. Besides a meager explanation on the controls, you are mostly thrown into the dark, trying to figure out not only how to operate the puzzle, but sometimes even what your goal is. It’s nonsensical most of the time and feeling lost is something that you should get used to, although I don’t think that this was the intention of the developers. Some subtle hints could go a long way in easing the players in and making them enjoy the challenges a lot more.
It's a shame that this lack of polish and overall roughness around the edges makes Whateverland fall short of greatness. There are some terrific ideas in there and a cast that is as quirky as one would hope for, with some genuinely bizarre personalities and plotlines to unravel. It also helps that the art style is fabulous, a tribute to works like The Nightmare Before Christmas. Voice acting is top quality as well, with Vincent’s monotone voice perfectly suiting his look, while Nick sounds brisker and uplifting. The soundtrack is another success, with a mix of styles that effortlessly mesh with the atmosphere, from jazz to blues and other types of music that often defy any sort of label – just let the weirdness sink in and enjoy.
Whateverland is the pure definition of a diamond in the rough. It’s a point and click adventure that nails down some of the hardest issues, including a great cast and terrific art style, but falls short in areas that could have been enhanced if given some proper thought and care. The UI is far from the most intuitive for a game in this genre, bugs often rear their ugly head, and the lack of guidance during some puzzles is disconcerting. However, some of those puzzles are genuinely clever and the various storylines always have something to keep you entertained.
Just as Vincent is torn between following his illicit intents or redeeming himself, Whateverland perilously swings between triumph and failure. Ultimately, there’s a lot to enjoy in this charming adventure if you don’t mind finding yourself in the dark every now and then.
- Quirky and magnificent art style
- Great soundtrack and voice acting
- Diverse and interesting cast of characters
- Some puzzles are brilliant to play and solve…
- … If you can understand how each puzzle works
- Not the most intuitive user interface
- Various bugs