Are you an adventurer who just can't seem to adventure? Are you a villager whose name is Villager? If so, you'll find the perfect home in Wildhollow, a well-crafted RPG/adventure/simulation game from KarjaSoft, creator of Spandex Force. In this light-hearted, humor-filled game, you play the role of a young boy/girl returning home to find your parents missing and your family ranch destroyed. Don't frown, though, as this game takes itself about as seriously as a clown working at a pie factory.
Gameplay takes place in three main areas: clicking around the overworld map, spending time caring for your animals at the ranch, and adventuring in towns, which is equal parts talking to villagers and poking your nose in every corner. Everything takes place on still screens and is handled with the mouse, so if you see sparkles under the cursor, click it and see what happens. Bet it's something cool!
Most of your time will be consumed by completing quests townsfolk send you on. Barber lost his glasses? You can find them. Villager want some berries? I'm sure you can rustle up a few. Missions aren't always a simple A to B to C progression, of course. Often you'll accept a quest but will have no idea where to go or what to do. In these situations, as with any role playing game, talking to people will open up a clue or two.
Apart from all this conversation reading, role playing and adventuring, Wildhollow is also a simulation/farming-type game. Your ranch is accessible from the overworld map as well as a shortcut icon on the menu bar. You can stock the ranch with animals from early in the game, and as you progress you unlock more and more beasts to purchase. Caring for them is a simple matter of keeping their health and mood high, each accomplished with food and brushing respectively. Animals have different food preferences, which is a great incentive for you to head out to go fishing, berry hunting, apple picking, etc. Before long you get to breed animals, which often produces preposterous creatures you'll have the pleasure of nurturing. But hey, that's why we play these kinds of games, innit?
Speaking of gathering stuff, Wildhollow uses an assortment of simple reflex/arcade mini-games to provide challenge when you're working for a reward. Grabbing apples, for example, requires you to charge at a tree and quickly click the fruit as it flies off the screen. Berry hunting is as much luck as it is fast mouse action, and fishing is all about stopping a sliding bar at just the right time. Nothing too complex, mind you, but the contrast between the sim/RPG core of the game and these old-style mini-games is greatly appreciated.
Analysis: Wildhollow is fully aware it's a fantasy-themed RPG/sim, and as such it takes itself about as seriously as games like Ben There, Dan That! and Fairy Godmother Tycoon. Humor is drenched over every conversation, every situation, and every character you run across, from the grumpy town greeter to the blind barber. Referencing modern events and situations is common, as is chipping away at the fourth wall, so prepare yourself for an uncommonly different kind of experience.
Wildhollow is full of little surprises, which is one of the many charming aspects of the game. Statues are scattered throughout the land, sometimes appearing in odd spots during your adventure. What's their purpose? Better nab them all to find out. You can also click seemingly innocent parts of the scenery such as bushes, trees, and barrels, often getting a small cash reward for your curiosity. I love it when a game rewards me for exploring.
Wildhollow does feel somewhat artificially lengthened by forcing you to do a little mini-game grinding to earn cash, but it wasn't anything so bad that I wanted to quit playing. Any "work" is greatly overshadowed by the charming atmosphere and never-too-serious gameplay. You're always aware you're in a somewhat absurd set of circumstances, so those drab moments that set in with some "serious" casual games never find a foothold in Wildhollow.
Before I say HOORAY FOR WILDHOLLOW and send you on your way, I think it's worth mentioning the music and visuals. Most of the character artwork is clean and anime in style, but they're set in front of watercolor backgrounds that could have been lifted from a portrait on your wall. Excellent touch, KarjaSoft! The music, while sometimes stiff and stock in nature, has this lilting sort of charm that almost makes you want to bob your head along with it. If you're the kind of person that would bob your head while riding in an elevator.
It's got captivating gameplay that makes you want to keep pressing on, a great sense of humor with crisp writing, and a visual package that's worth its weight in paint. Wildhollow has all the ingredients of an addictive casual game, and this is one game you'll want to devour over and over again.