I generally lean towards puzzle-platformers and point-and-click games, so I was drawn to Selma and the Wisp, a sidescroller where you don’t directly control the main character but rather, guide her as a magical, floating ball. The story begins when a girl named Selma, scared of what lies beneath her bed, inexplicably follows a wisp into the world of her wardrobe. Inside lies neither lion nor witches, but a collection of scary creatures and obstacles. As the wisp, your task is to quell Selma’s fears by shining your light and interacting with the environment.
In theory, the game is a fascinating action-based point-and-click hybrid, but in execution, it plays out like a frustrating escort mission. There are many hazards that Selma must evade and run through, but you have no direct control. Instead, you play as the wisp, who has free reign to fly around the screen. Alas, that freedom is moot as the wisp is generally unaffected by enemies and traps.
As you float along, Selma follows you. She can’t reach high areas or leap down tall cliffs, but she can run and jump. She’s careless, though, and will run to her death if that’s what it takes to reach you. She makes little effort to protect herself from enemies, rotating blades, or traps. You must be the one who times her actions, which is easier said than done since you can only guess her movements. Just because you’re in front of a climbable rope doesn’t mean she’ll know to climb it. She has no concept of dodging search lights or running out of harm’s way either.
Luckily, you can command her to stop following you when needed. However, if you fly too far off, Selma will shiver and her heart beat meter will slowly decrease, killing her if it reaches zero. You are essentially a protective babysitter who must constantly make calculated movements while ensuring you are close enough to prevent Selma’s fear attacks. The wisp isn’t completely immortal, either. Over time, you start to lose your luster. Accordingly, the screen grows darker, making the already dim display near impossible to see. You can restore your glow by collecting small orbs, but if your light completely runs out, then Selma likewise dies. As a result, you’re always on a stressful time limit.
There are frequent checkpoints so you don’t have to go back too far, but there are a couple annoying exceptions. Specifically, there are two devious sections where you’re in either a slow-moving boat or a hot-air balloon. It takes a while to reach the end of the ride, especially in the boat, and the path is filled with perils. Worst of all, if you die once, you start over from the beginning. I can see why Selma is so terrified of this world.
The gameplay is less of a problem during the slower-paced puzzle segments, where Selma gets to stay still while the wisp interacts with the environment. Unfortunately, these brain teasers are mostly simple affairs, usually with the wisp activating a machine or attacking an enemy by exploding. Or the wisp may need to locate a bubbled item and use it on something else. It isn’t as thought-provoking as it sounds, however. The brunt of the “puzzle” is simply to find the hidden thing and have the game automatically use it on the required object. Yes, the game does it for you, which is probably for the better, since I couldn’t figure out what item was in the bubble half the time. So, the game is either vexing at its action segments or dull during its slower trials.
There are some upsides. The imagery is genuinely inspiring, resembling a magical world constructed with paper. The silhouetted visuals look like Limbo splashed with color. Although the gameplay can be maddening, the levels fascinated me. What kept me going was seeing what Selma and the wisp would encounter next, from neon-lit cities to a fair full of Halloween monsters to Piranha Plant lookalikes on trains. I can’t say that I fully understood the ending or what the story was trying to say, but the monologue about death and fear had some emotional impact. Though, it could have just been me freaking out over Selma running aimlessly to her doom. The foreboding music lends a suspenseful vibe, even if nothing in the game is truly that scary.
Selma and the Wisp has an interesting premise, having you control a character who, in turn, leads another character. Unfortunately, the indirect playstyle leads to frustration in hazardous areas as you are forced to escort a girl and hope she doesn’t die by accident. At least it’s a short adventure, with ten levels that only run about two or three hours, for those curious to try it out. The idea of this “guiding light simulator” remains intriguing, but the experience is hard to fully recommend.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!