Take The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing, mix it all together in a big game stew, and what do you get? Something that would no doubt closely resemble Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles. The newest release from Prideful Sloth certainly isn’t shy about the franchises and games that led to its creation, although the final product goes to show the value of focusing on a game’s strengths. Yonder: The Cloudcatcher Chronicles is the kind of game that tries to do a lot of things and doesn’t do any of them all that well, but it’s still an enjoyable game in its own right.
The story opens with you on a ship bound for the island of Gemea, an idyllic environment that was once your childhood home. After your ship is wrecked in the storm, you encounter the magical Sprites in a dream realm, who task you with finding their brethren on the island of Gemea to beat back the terrible purple Murk substance that has covered parts of the land. It’s a simple enough plot that acts as a way of framing your adventures to come, although there is a certain element of mediocrity to it that can’t be shaken. Not only does the plot not really go anywhere after the initial introduction, but the supposed stakes seem nonexistent; the Murk doesn’t seem all that threatening, and life in the various villages goes on peacefully and carefree in spite of it. Even so, it’s hard to fault a game like this for its lackluster story, and it does its job of giving your actions context.
Gameplay in Yonder spans a variety of genres, from farm sims to open-world adventures, meaning there’s something here for everyone. Your character can traverse a vast and diverse map that’s spotted with villages, rundown farms you can acquire, and various other points of interest relating to quests. The map is divided into several different regions, each of which is governed by a completion percentage that will grant you benefits the higher it goes. Doing quests for village workers, planting trees, tending farms, and clearing murk will contribute to this percentage, and raising it will grant you new multipliers that increase the chances of finding collectibles or more wild animals.
Doing quests for villagers seldom goes beyond the age-old 'go here and grab X amount of this thing and bring it back', but these quests are essential in collecting tools and supplies for the utilising the crafting system that much of Yonder is built around. Your character can build everything from flower beds to shelters for your animals, but much of these products must be unlocked by partaking in certain guild quests that give you new things to craft.
Crafting is handled by either picking up things in the overworld (such as rocks, vines, and wood) or by trading goods with villagers you come across. There’s no currency in Yonder, rather, all items in a transaction have a certain value to them, and a successful trade requires you to put up enough things to meet that value. It’s a bit of a strange system, but it works in practice, although the crafting all feels a little bit too tacked on.
Indeed, there’s a recurring thread in Yonder where it never quite follows up on any of these gameplay threads in a significant way; by trying to do a little bit of everything, it ends up doing none of it that well. The exploration feels neutered by the absence of any sort of combat system or enemy presence, making it feel more like a walking simulator with a few things scattered about to find on the way. The farm sim elements, arguably standing as the main draw, aren’t anywhere near as rewarding or deep as those you might find in something like Stardew Valley, and this isn’t helped by the fact that you can’t even strictly make any money on what you produce.
All of this comes together to make for an experience that fails to provide players with adequate incentive to keep going. There’s no drive to find what’s next because there’s no real sense of progression to be found, aside from seeing patches of Murk slowly disappear. Zelda empowers players by granting them new combat abilities and perks so they can take on stronger challenges and harder puzzles. Minecraft gives you the ability to set your own goals and projects in a completely open environment. Stardew Valley slowly gives you more farming options as you successfully manage what you have. Yonder has none of this, it simply asks you to do things for the sake of it and doesn’t give you much reward for your trouble.
In spite of this, there is still enjoyment to be found in Yonder, just of a different kind. It’s quite relaxing to simply walk around and find things or tackle quests at a leisurely pace, and though there isn’t much else to do but keep going once you’ve hit a goal, it’s a nice ‘breather’ kind of game. In this way, Yonder echoes Animal Crossing with its directionless aims, and though it doesn’t quite manage to nail the same quality of that chill atmosphere, it comes close enough to be satisfying. The portability of Switch lends itself well to this sort of experience, and we greatly enjoyed being able to check in for just a little bit every now and then.
From a presentation perspective, Yonder manages to impress, even arguably by first-party standards. The art style has that Wind Waker-esque look to it, but the dynamic lighting is what really sets this one apart from the rest of the pack. Light and shadow are handled in a realistic and convincing way, and it lends the cartoony visuals a kind of depth that’s admittedly surprising. Couple that with friendly writing for the villagers and a relaxing soundtrack, and Yonder proves to be a game that is a delight to experience, docked or undocked.
All told, Yonder is that kind of game that has value, but only a very specific kind of gamer will be able to find it. Yonder isn’t a bad game by any means, but it’s clear that it tries to do too much at once and doesn’t stop to make sure that anything is that fun in practice. Mediocre gameplay mechanics aside, it’s a relaxing game to play with your coffee in the morning, and the presentation value is a definite plus. We’d recommend this to anyone looking for a relatively shallow game that doesn’t take a whole lot of a time investment; for what it is, Yonder is a decent game, though it’s hardly a must-play.