Wuppo Review

With so many successful and deeply-loved Zelda games in the Nintendo library, it is curious that there haven’t been more Zelda-inspired titles over the years to help fill the gaps between Zelda games.  Wuppo is one such title, a 2D side-scrolling adventure that feels heavily inspired by Nintendo’s flagship action/RPG series.  It is a subtle similarity, as Wuppo’s gameplay, world size, and length are considerably slimmed down.  The feel and the flow of the game, however, are very reminiscent of a Zelda game. It thrives on this formula in many ways, providing much the same sense of immersion and adventure as a Zelda game.

That is not to say that Wuppo doesn’t have a lot of its own distinguishing characteristics, both positive and negative.  It is a very colorful adventure, both in appearance and in spirit, and the game benefits from a terrific sense of immersion and some of the best world building this side of Pillars of Eternity.  The game also has some nagging problems though, like obtuse puzzles and a tedious interface that frequently disrupt its pace.  It is also disappointing in the story department, never really developing a compelling reason to advance and failing miserably to provide a compelling “end of the world” scenario.  Nevertheless, Wuppo is a satisfying journey for gamers looking for a lighthearted RPG adventure.

In Wuppo you play as a little white ball known as a Wum, who lives in a hotel and has a particular love of ice cream.  Unfortunately, your tendency to drip ice cream all over the carpet gets you kicked out of the hotel, and you spend the rest of the game looking for a new home.  Your journeys take you to a huge variety of locations, from treetop communities to an entire huge city underground, introducing you to a wide variety of characters, races, and monsters.

Many positive parallels can be drawn between Wuppo and the games from The Legend of Zelda series.  The most significant are its mostly lighthearted tone and the types of quirky characters that you meet.  The music and the way that it occasionally changes when you meet a goofy character is another similarity.  Like a Zelda game, Wuppo can be roughly described as an “action/RPG”, but its RPG elements are very light, other than a health bar and an inventory.  The game has a lot of bosses that involve recognizing and countering attack patterns.  It has a large, continuous world, with some major areas closed off until you collect an important quest item or complete a major goal.  The game also has a huge puzzle temple in the middle of the game where you uncover an ancient secret.  The runes on the wall of the temple and the way that they light up feel like a Zelda game.  There is even a “hint” character that you carry with you, similar to the fairy character in the last few Zelda games.

Unfortunately, Wuppo borrows a few things that the Zelda games do wrong, chief among them its tedious and slow-paced dialog.  NPCs deliver dialog in little bite-sized pieces that you have to click through endlessly to get past.  Short conversations take a lot longer than they should.  The trading interface, in particular, is awful.  Instead of a streamlined, speedy interface where you can sell items quickly, merchants ask for confirmation of every item that you sell, after you go through a dialog tree.  It is an annoying problem that persists for pretty much the entire game and slows it down repeatedly.

It would be unfair, however, to only compare Wuppo to The Legend of Zelda, because the game also brings a lot of its own assets to the table.  Its art style, in particular, is fantastic.  The game looks beautiful, despite having come from what was clearly a small development team.  The game has a wonderful world to explore, rewarding you richly whenever you find a way to reach a high up ledge or a hidden corner in a cave somewhere.   Best of all is Wuppo’s music, which has a large variety of tracks and some fantastic battle music.

Wuppo has a lot of dialogue and other efforts devoted to world building and storytelling, and it succeeds with flying colors at the former.  The world in Wuppo is rich with history, and the game is loaded with collectible film strips that contain history about the game’s four races and each major area.  Every area looks different from every other area, giving you the distinct feeling that you are in a real world that is loaded with flavor and character.  The hundreds of other beings that you share the world with all go about their business as if you are only one small part of a greater picture.  The sheer size of the crowd in Popo City, the game’s major underground metropolis, is quite impressive.   Hundreds of citizens go about their daily business, using the trains, shopping, chatting, and debating issues in City Hall.

While Wuppo has an excellent setting for telling a story, it fails to actually deliver on that story.  It starts off strong enough, with you going on your quest to find yourself a new home.  This quest would make a great opening act in a typical story, but in this game, it takes up about two thirds of it.  Then, towards the end, the game throws a major threat at you completely out of nowhere and suddenly makes it your reason that the world needs saving.  The game’s final boss and the threat that it represents aren’t even introduced to you until you have about three or four hours left in the game, at most.  Almost right at the end, the game also introduces some utterly bizarre, nearly incomprehensible mythology in an attempt to explain what is happening.  It is as if the story was originally intended to be a much longer epic, but was then chopped into pieces to shorten the game’s length.  The story seems to be missing a middle portion.

In Wuppo, you will find a lot of inventory items that you can use, ranging from different types of weapons, to power ups, to protective items and special items that you need to complete quests.  Most of the time, you will probably have your weapon equipped.  It is a simple rapid shooter, but despite the simplicity, Wuppo is able to throw a wide variety of bosses at you.  Each boss is unique in both its appearance and in the tactics that you need to take to defeat it.  Unfortunately, you can only equip one item at a time, which means that you can’t, for instance, wear a helmet at the same time that you are shooting at an enemy.  You can’t equip the bazooka shooter at the same time that you use the continuous shooting weapon.  You have to unequip your weapon to use a healing item.  Ultimately, most of your items will go to waste for that reason.  It just isn’t worth it to go through your inventory to find an item, especially if you are using a controller, which you will need for the game’s hard battles.

Wuppo also has a few areas where you will probably get stuck for long periods, wondering where you should go or what you missed.  At least a few puzzles are horribly frustrating, and since a lot of the world is open, you have no idea what to do next and the game gives you no hint.  On more than once occasion, I wandered around for a half hour before finding the solution on the internet.  Never did that solution make me say “Oh, that was so obvious – I should have figured that out”.  Instead, I usually found myself angry at the game for expecting me to read the developers’ mind and come up with the solutions.

Wuppo clocks in somewhere between fifteen and twenty hours, offering just about a perfect length and suffering from very little repetition in the process.  The game takes the approach of building a relatively small but highly detailed, rigorously simulated world.  It prospers with this approach, instead of building a large world and filling it with copy-and-pasted material.  Unfortunately, it bogs down often, either due to its poor interface or its puzzles that force you to spend way too much time trying to figure out what the developers where thinking when they designed them.  In the end though, the positives outweigh the negatives, making Wuppo a game that is worth playing for the opportunity to explore its beautiful and immersive world.