Wavetale Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Ah, water. Calming, tranquil, fun. You’d struggle to find a game that doesn’t have some body of water in it. But Wavetale dives into the deep end. This adventure title from Thunderful sees players exploring by walking, running, and gliding on water. Initially released for Stadia, it has now spread to PC and consoles. For the most part, it’s relaxing to play, although it struggles a little on Switch.

Wavetale takes place in the aptly-named Strandville, a town that has been literally and figuratively flooded by baddies known as the Dirty Paws. You play as heroine Sigrid – a sarcastic, cynical young adult whose temperament comes through in the talented voice over actor’s sighs and mumbles. She lives with a grandmother who won’t even let her dip her toe in the surrounding sea, because the world beyond is covered with dark perilous clouds (‘Gloom’). Naturally, she longs to explore those uncharted waters.

And she does. Not by choice, though. The first chapter takes place on home grounds, where you collect ‘Sparks’ (cute blue blob-shaped sources of electricity) for Grandma. Once you’re done, a tidal wave hits the town and throws Sigrid onto a patch of land. There she meets a mysterious underwater creature, which mirrors her movements from beneath the surface, enabling her to walk and surf on the ocean.

Wavetale Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Though sceptical of the being at first, Grandma allows Sigrid to take the plunge and leave home to collect Sparks and money. That’s when the journey truly begins. With the wind in your hair and a net in your hands, you surf the seas to tick off requests, complete puzzles, fight enemies, and piece together the story of Sigrid’s dead mother. Grandma communicates with Sigrid through a headset, directing the player and driving the story with sassy annotations. The repartee between grandmother and granddaughter is amusing and drizzled with water puns, ‘motherfloundering’ and ‘roaring rapids!’ among them.

Zipping around on the ocean is the best and most fun part of the game. It’s somehow both speedy and relaxing at the same time, heightened by soothing splash sound effects and sleep playlist-worthy travel music. Completing puzzles keeps the fluid movement going, as you catapult and fly through the air to reach higher planes, though this is accompanied by music at a tempo that matches the tasks’ urgency.

But even when its pace picks up, Wavetale’s primary focus is leisure. The straightforward puzzles engage Sigrid’s skills (double-jumping, gliding, grappling and, of course, running on water) to move through obstacle courses and activate switches. Meanwhile you’ll battle enemies that graduate in difficulty, but the combat is chill, not chilling. Your health regenerates without food or sleep. Three monsters might approach you at once but they’ll wait their turn before hitting you. And it’s satisfying watching them explode in a paint splatter. Even the boss fights test speed and dexterity, not combat strategy.

Wavetale Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

We found the trickier challenge was mastering the controls, as a few combinations felt unnatural and the camera is quite fiddly. Wavetale doesn’t use the Switch’s motion controls, instead relying on the right joystick to change viewpoints. This wouldn’t be an issue except the camera often automatically swings back to behind Sigrid. It’s quite frustrating during boss battles where the game expects haste, responsiveness, and accuracy, yet bars the player from getting a full view. Sometimes it was so hard to see where we were going that we just hookshotted blindly into the air and hoped for the best.

There’s not much freeplay, at least not in the initial playthrough. If you veer away from the direction the compass points to, Gloom swallows you up and plonks you back onto the straight and narrow. It’s a relatively creative way of integrating storyline with game mechanic, but it is less blank canvas and more paint by numbers.

That’s a nice segue to the art style, which looks a little like a meditative paint-by-numbers piece. The textures and reflections are done in flat shapes and clean lines. The characters are drawn with unique shapes too, in a semi-low poly manga style. Between sea and sky, this game uses every shade of blue. The coastal design appeals to our inner child’s sense of adventure.

Wavetale Review - Screenshot 4 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

While Wavetale is certainly a fun ride, the Switch version is not all smooth sailing. The font size is minuscule and both the text and compass are in a hue so similar to the sky they’re hard to see, particularly in handheld mode. The autosave text suffers from the same problem. That meant the game’s infrequent saving also left us replaying certain parts if we closed it.

On the technical side, the frame rate is slower than on other platforms and there were some glitchy areas – for example, sometimes we found ourselves inside walls or suspended in mid-air. Though there are settings for camera movement and font size, adjusting them didn’t seem to change much. With so many games on the Switch, we wouldn’t say this one is a must-buy, but it is a rollicking ride for anyone who likes their games cruisy and pretty.

Conclusion

Wavetale is a gentle, easygoing game that suits players who don’t want to strain themselves, as its quick runtime ensures the play doesn’t dry up. We enjoyed skidding around on the ocean and swinging from great heights with our grappling hook. We only wished the camera movement and other mechanics were a little smoother. The game is nonetheless pretty fun – after all, it’s hard not to enjoy surfing through a picturesque, water-filled landscape. While we’ve played far better games, we felt like this short title was still a good one to dip your toes into.