The forest is looking a bit more shady than usual. A sentient corruption seeks to envelop the land, but what better way to drive back the stygian evil than with a horde of little woodland imps. It’s Pikmin with a new skin. Teach your adversaries the true meaning of “death by cute and cuddly.” Pummel your enemies to a pulp and let nothing stand in your path — be it giant boulders, king-sized beetles, or stone golems. Command, kick, and vacuum-suck your way to banishing the darkness from the world in the puzzle action-adventure The Wild at Heart. Developed by Moonlight Kids, The Wild at Heart is available on PC, Xbox One, and Game Pass.
The Wilderness Beckons for Troubled Youngsters
For some curious reason, plots that involve two prepubescent children wandering off on their own into an enchanted forest full of mystical creatures oddly seem to resonate with people (like Over the Garden Wall or Gravity Falls). Due to a sour relationship with his father, young Wake decides to do what any sensible preteen boy would do and runs away from home. Outfitted with his self-constructed Gustbuster, he sets off into the Deep Woods to rendezvous with his friend Kirby. Together they meet the Greenshield order, a circle of archaic guardians striving to protect the lands from The Never, dark creatures of the underworld. Joining their cause, Wake and Kirby must brave the perils of the Deep Woods, but they don’t have to do it alone. Spritelings, adorable magical creatures of the forest, will accompany them by the dozens. Through the power of friendship, magic, and numbers, the Greenshields and their two new recruits will drive out the corruption that has tainted the lands.
It Takes Two
The Wild at Heart demonstrates some near-perfect pacing with its smooth-as-butter gameplay progression. You begin alone as Wake, who uses his Gustbuster akin to the Poltergust 3000 from Luigi’s Mansion. The suction ability allows you to open pathways, fetch loot, and suck your Spritelings right to you. After an hour or two, Kirby joins your company. She wields a magical green lantern that functions similarly to the Gustbuster, except it can clear corruption nodes from the environment. Her small size allows her to fit into tunnels that lead into areas inaccessible for Wake. You take control of the duo one at a time, utilizing their skills to solve diverse puzzles that gradually increase in complexity. Never once did I feel an area was too easy or the difficulty was unbearable.
The Wild at Heart takes an old-school approach style to its gameplay — marking the goal on the map, but only providing subtle hints or environmental cues, letting the player solve the problem on their own. In a gaming world where so much of the content is dumb-downed for the player, Moonlight Kids has boldly designed satisfying puzzles and gameplay challenging to an accessible level that respects the player’s intelligence.
Handling the Happy Hordes
Managing the Spritelings in The Wild at Heart is notably similar to that of Pikmin. You can’t directly control the little critters but instead hurl them at your intended target. Chuck them at enemies to give the baddies a proper thrashing or throw them towards large, heavy objects to be carried back to camp. As the game progresses, the number of Spritelings you manage will increase, plus you will encounter new Spritelings types who possess unique passives and abilities. For example, Twiglings are fast workers who are immune to toxic monsters and mushrooms. On the other hand, Lunalings aren’t affected by corruption and are three times stronger under the moonlight. A rule of thumb would be to explore the Deep Woods with a diverse party of Spritelings.
Visually and Audibly Beaming with Charm
The elegant art style is awfully reminiscent of Tim Schaefer’s Broken Age and Touch Detective for the Nintendo DS. The environment is rich in lush greenery, bluish tints of turquoise, and floral shades. The Wild at Heart‘s presentation breathes life in such a way that you can almost visually “smell” what’s on screen. I was astonished how even Wake’s room, an area that you’ll never return to after the prologue, was crafted so beautifully. Moonlight Kids’ attention to detail in character models, especially with the Greenshields, is no short of amazing. The cuddlesome, dainty designs of the Spritelings will melt your heart. Not to mention, their appearances perfectly match their unique utility. Like something out of a fairytale or children’s storybook, the whole world that Moonlight Kids has created is magical indeed.
The audio design is the best I’ve experienced in a while in indie games—the variety in sounds when Wake and Kirby pitter-patter over crunchy dirt or squishy lily pads was impressive. Ice cracking, water drippings, and even luminous glowing all were incredibly done with high-quality sound samples. I particularly loved The Wild at Heart‘s details in audio, like the character with a teakettle on his head, Scrap Heap, makes echoey warbling noises when they speak. The soundtrack isn’t as memorable as I would like, but the music is soft and peaceful and just about gives your eardrums an “audible massage.”
Not So Minor In-Game Bugs
Ninety percent of The Wild at Heart ran flawlessly. There were no framerate drops or stutters, and while the loading times were sometimes a bit long, exploring the Deep Woods was free of glitches and bugs. However, right before entering the final shrine in the main story, I ran into two bugs. The first was a map glitch where I couldn’t control the map properly, other than opening and closing it. The latter almost devastated my experience. On my into the entrance of a cave, Kirby got perpetually stuck running into an invisible wall. I thought the game was perhaps having some loading issues. But after almost 5 minutes of waiting far after nightfall, I had no choice but to restart the game. Luckily, no progress was lost, so I was able to stroll right back to the shrine entrance and head inside. Admittedly, these two issues I encountered are minor and probably rare. But like two tiny bugs splattered against a sparkling, clean windshield, they were noticeable and affected my experience.
So Close to Perfection
Sad to say, after my ten or so hours with The Wild at Heart, I was struck with the case of “Please sir, I want some more.” The Wild at Heart was an undeniably remarkable experience. The charming gameplay, the colorful cast of characters, the vibrant world, the mysterious narrative — it was the combination on the brink of something astounding. Yet, it all felt so shallow in the end.
In the game’s final hours, my inventory was full of items and craftables that I would never need to use. The whimsical Greenshields was so lovable and interesting, but I never got to know them more, minus a brief backstory and bland dialogue. Wake and Kirby’s story felt rushed, and the abrupt ending with the “Surprise! It was like this all along!” twist was tragic. The closer I got to the ending, the more I wanted to feel connected to the characters and story, but The Wild at Heart didn’t let me.
The Wild at Heart is a beautifully hand-crafted experience with refreshing gameplay and sensational art design. It’s a must-play for fans of “Pikmin-like” gameplay or a Double Fine level of innovative design and direction. Moonlight Kids created a delightfully captivating world of magic, lore, and mystery. Just be careful not to get too attached as I did. Otherwise, the conclusion will leave you longingly wishing there was more.
- Sensational art and sound design
- Captivating gameplay and innovative puzzles
- Coherent and creative narrative and lore
- Gratifying gameplay progression and pacing
- Character development is too shallow
- The story's conclusion feels rushed and unsatisfactory
- Inherent bugs that need to be addressed