[Disclosure: A review code was provided for the contents of this article]
My daughter, who is almost three, loves Yonder: The Cloud Catcher. I want to love it. I know you’re looking at the screenshots now, staring, longing, wanting to love it. It looks lovely. It is lovely. The problem is, it’s kind of boring too. You see my daughter is still of an age where I try to keep her away from games that involve manning a light machine gun and laying down fire across a blood-soaked battlefield, but believe it nor, that’s the kind of thing I like.
Yonder features absolutely nothing like that. No rat-tat-tat of enfilading machine gun fire. No mortars whistling overhead. No lasers or even highly unlikely, technologically enhanced longbows. Not so much as a sharp, pointy stick in fact. So, we’ve established that it’s perfect for kids, but having watched the day and night cycle come and go several times, I was still coming to terms with this and working out exactly what I should be doing instead of killing everything in sight.
Once my initial surprise had passed and I began to get to grips with the idea that no combat would be required, I did start to figure out what Yonder is all about. To summarise, it’s about being nice to people, collecting things, crafting and improving them, being nice to animals and then, just kind of doing it all again in new and sort of interesting places. You see the world of Yonder is split into eight separate (and equally beautiful) locations, each of which with its own animals, resources and people to visit, yet unfortunately, the dialogue is always punchy and basic, and there is little or no development around the player character.
Players are able to customise their character initially, and within a few minutes of the game beginning, that character finds him or herself shipwrecked on the island of Gemea. The most crucial plot element is delivered shortly after, with the introduction of The Murk, a purple fog-like substance that is largely used to prevent players from accessing new areas too soon. To remove it, players must search the maps for Sprites, which are little fairly like creatures hidden in crates, caves, under rocks and so on. Each patch of The Murk has a set number of sprites required to clear it, and if your posse matches that number, then you’ll be able to clear it and pass through the area it was occupying.
I mentioned already that there are eight areas on the island of Gemea, and each of them is beautiful, if a little bit cliché. Snow, grassland, tropics, sandy desert and more. Everything that you have seen in games everywhere else is captured here. Yet, for each raise of my world-weary eyebrow at discovering another samey videogame biome, my daughter shrieked with excitement and joy at the prospect of new animals, or the way footprints appeared in the snow. “Can we build a snowman?” She screamed, “let’s see if we can” I smiled.
Much in addition to the environments is also copied and pasted from other games, albeit in a simplified form. You will chop wood, mine stone, metal and gems, and you’ll craft them into improved tools, items and ornaments. You’ll also lure and tend animals, and whilst simple, there is more joy to be found here for younger players. Sprig Pigs and Fabbits are every bit as cute and silly as they sound, and there isn’t a single creature on Gemea that won’t illicit wonder from kids under about five or six years old.
And so as I work towards some kind of conclusion, I find myself needing to deliver a caveat. Rating Yonder as a completely normal, competitive experience just isn’t fair. I’m not saying it is wholly focused on children, but it is most definitely a source of great wonder to players who are not as world weary as the average mid thirties hardcore gamer. I can’t even really compare it to Harvest Moon, because that has considerably more purpose in recent iterations, but it does stack up quite well against say, Animal Crossing, which is similar in structure.
I can’t recommend Yonder to any average gamer, but I recommend it without hesitation to anyone that wants to play with kids, and wishes to control the content they have access to. You can play, explore and learn together in Yonder with complete freedom from the worry that something scary or aggressive might appear, and doing so in a game that is so beautiful and so well made is rare. Adult gamers who abhor violence should also apply here, as few indie titles (violent or not) are as attractive or as robust as this one is, but do be prepared to run out of steam as you repeat the same tasks over and over again. This is truly a review where you need to read the words and make your own decision about whether the game suits your circumstances, so for that reason, I’ll give it a: