Longing for something more than the dreary and isolating lives they lead at home, two young friends Wake and Kirby flee to a mysterious forest. It’s what every child dreamt of when they thought about running away from home: a sunlit forest filled with vibrant wildlife, lost treasures and new companions. With mythical characters and surroundings, The Wild at Heart is aptly named and reminds us of the joys and mysteries of our youth.
It is very easy to compare this game to Nintendo’s Pikmin franchise, as it utilizes a similar central mechanic. Instead of using Pikmin, The Wild at Heart uses Spritelings, which are magical creatures you can amass throughout your journey as you travel through the Deep Woods. There are five different kinds of Spriteling, each native to a specific region and offer various services such as gathering items, knocking down walls and fighting enemies. The Spritelings are very cute and, unfortunately, very easy to lose and kill. Beginning with two or three and then building up to 75 or more, these creatures are the key to every puzzle and challenge that takes place throughout the game.
The puzzles themselves are actually quite challenging and at some points offer no clues, resulting in many long stretches of time dedicated to finding a way to move forward. This makes the puzzles feel even more rewarding to complete. When moving forward with the story, however, it is trickier to figure out exactly where the game wants you to progress next. The only indicators are exclamation points placed on the map, but even then it remains a challenge as to how you will arrive at that point. The game emphasizes exploration, but providing clearer indications of next steps would’ve made for a smoother game experience.
What truly makes The Wild at Heart is the music and the environment themselves. Composed by Amos Roddy, the soundtrack perfectly captures the curious and unfamiliar surroundings the two children are interacting with. It also serves as a convenient reminder whenever the sun sets, as eerie music plays when nightfall arrives. Nighttime is extremely dangerous in the Deep Woods, as dark ghost-like creatures called the Never will begin to attack if you are not close to a light source. I began to dread nightfall during my game experience just because of the music alone, which perfectly contrasts the innocent and soothing soundtrack that coupled the daytime environment.
The art style feels as if you are looking at your surroundings through the eyes of the children themselves. The vibrant and colorful landscapes that make up the Deep Woods help foster an engaging exploration experience. Since the game relies so heavily on its environment, it allows for players to partake in a mythical and exciting world separate from the reality of everyday life. There are also occasional dream sequences that remind the player of the world they left behind, as family troubles remain within the back of Wake’s mind. Despite a world that presents a new purpose and new friends, past struggles continue to haunt your mind.
The Wild at Heart is a heartfelt exploration game that makes you feel as if you are seeing the world through young eyes. The game follows Wake and Kirby as they cling to their innocence and a need for something greater than their lonely and difficult upbringings, and it is refreshing and bittersweet to follow them throughout this journey. With characters, environments and music that embody a battle between the joys and fears of childhood, The Wild at Heart is a perfect reminder of how our view of the world continues to grow and change.
The Wild at Heart was developed by Moonlight Kids and published by Humble Games. Our review is based on the Xbox Series X|S version. It is also available for the Xbox One, PC and Mac.
Katherine Long is an intern at Paste and a rising senior at American University. She loves hyperpop, roller skating and videogames and can finish a sudoku puzzle in 43 seconds.