Wenjia, a game that channels that Ori-vibe quite well, is one that I’ve enjoyed sinking some time into. Indeed it’s a short game, which brings its asking price into question, but when all is said and done, Wenjia offers a calm and soothing adventure that doesn’t demand too much from its players. The game throws you into the role of a kitten, one that has the ability to phase between the realm of matter and the realm of energy, a necessary mechanic that revolves around the game’s core plot. Here, however, is where one of my gripes pops up.
Wenjia doesn’t do a great job at relaying its story to you. I found more weight from the official store listing than that of what the game was trying to sell me. The game centers around the world of Wenjia, and in this world sits a tranquil forest that’s since been disrupted by a large earthquake. At the heart of this earthquake sits a band of mountain spirits, many of which have been trapped by flows of surrounding lava. The few that escape manage to alert our feline protagonist and thus, the adventure of Wenjia follows suit.
Taking control of the cat, players will need to maneuver through the game’s handful of levels in an attempt to save the trapped spirits from their fiery dooms. The unique ability to phase between the realm of matter and the realm of energy, allows the cat to access certain platforms or areas that are designated to that realm. This is achieved through the use of the bumper, and at the tap of a button, the realm in which the cat is situated in will immediately swap to the other – a mechanics that you’ll use throughout the journey, often.
It makes for a very fantasy-esque adventure, and although not anywhere near as impressive as Ori’s depth and gameplay variation, I found Wenjia’s visuals to be gorgeous throughout the entirety of play. Everything within has been hand drawn with a commendable amount of detail and distinction; whether you’re witnessing the lush and vibrant surroundings of the matter realm, or the daunting, yet intriguing design of the energy realm, Wenjia is a treat to behold. The same can be said about the game’s soothing soundtrack, which sets the theme of the game nicely.
Sadly, on the gameplay front, things a little flat. Despite the interesting use of environmental puzzles, the cat doesn’t obtain any special abilities outside of a double-jump. When I take the length of the game into account (there’s an achievement for completing in less than an hour), this is somewhat easy to forgive, but it would have been nice to see more depth here. Nevertheless, it’s the level design that keeps things interesting, if indeed slightly repetitive towards the end of the game. That said, there’s more to do post-completion.
Wenjia is packed with hidden collectibles, as well as unlockable skins and some additional story elements – many of which can be found off the beaten path. There’s also leaderboard support and a “Speed Competition” mode that serves as your run of the mill speedrun. This drags me back to the game’s pricing. If you’re here for the story and the story alone, the asking price (£12.49/$14.99) might be somewhat steep. However, if you enjoy re-running your platformers and collecting everything in sight, the cost of the game is better justified.
The aim of the game largely consists of making it from one end of the level to the next. There’s no boss fights to contend with, in fact, there’s absolutely no combat whatsoever, but this is a design choice that suits Wenjia quite well. The hazards that you come across are oftentimes your immediate surroundings; be it thorn bushes, death drops, bodies of water or even a vast flow of lava. In order to overcome most of these dangers, the cat will need to utilize both realms on the fly, and sometimes several times over in extreme rapid succession.
For instance, there may be a platform that is only accessible in one realm, granting you the ability to reach new heights in the alternate realm. The cat can also make use of node-like white dots that will teleport it to another nearby node. These are used quite frequently throughout, and can truly test your reflexes when the game calls for it. I don’t want to spoil too much, but using a blend of mechanics such as this, Wenjia stands out as unique in the midst of recently released platformers. It helps that the game does a good job at building on these mechanics from start to end.
Furthermore, Wenjia’s locations differ quite well and indeed, frequently. The game throws fresh and interesting levels at its players regularly, at the same time as maintaining its aforementioned puzzle diversity. In regards to the game’s difficulty, I cant say that it put up much of a fight. I managed to breeze through the game with minimal effort in a matter of 80 minutes or so, with 20 minutes of that time spent in one lava-chasing section that was particularly frustrating. Still, come the endgame, I cant say that I wasn’t satisfied with my time here.
Despite the lack of evolving gameplay functions, Wenjia’s interesting use of its realm-swapping mechanic, grouped with its environmental puzzle design, is truly what keeps the adventure fresh throughout its short run. Wenjia is by no means a groundbreaking game, but its beautiful visuals, together with its simplified concept, makes for a decent adventure that’s soothing, charming and laid-back.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.