Wavetale is a 3D action platformer from Thunderful Development in which you play as Sigrid, a girl living above a submerged city who gains the power to walk on the deadly water when she meets a shadowy mermaid. Well-directed cutscenes establish the threat of Gloom, a dark goo that makes the sea deadly and must be constantly pushed back by spark-powered machinery. When a giant wave of Gloom hits and overwhelms the city’s defenses, you must recover sparks and push back the Gloom for good.
You do this via a mix of on-and-off water action — surfing along on your mermaid friend, doing some smooth platforming to make your way up tall island structures, collecting sparks, and repairing machinery by hitting it. Perfecting your jump and dive timings to gain speed while surfing is incredibly fun, and the pure vibes of surfing and jumping through spark rings while noir-ish jazz-inspired music plays are immaculate. Jumping up buildings is easy compared to in most platformers but has a sense of flow that feels so good that it doesn’t matter that it’s not difficult.
There’s on-foot combat that is overly simple, mostly consisting of smashing the attack button repeatedly since there’s no dodge or block, and the movement is better suited for platforming. The surfing combat, on the other hand, feels like a natural outgrowth of the platforming and integrates much more smoothly to the core gameplay, making its simplicity less jarring.
Wavetale is entirely linear barring a few brief sidequests, but it pulls off its linearity due to well-crafted cinematography during cutscenes, good voice acting, and solid writing. The overall story is predictable, but each character feels distinct and fun to hear from, helping to keep each scene interesting.
The cel-shaded visuals and wavering 2D face animation create a soft, cute look to the game, even if the game has some occasional visual glitches. There’s some neat clothing customization you can buy, including a few funny hats and cool hair colors, which gives you something on which to spend the overly-abundant currency you find throughout the world.
For the most part, what you see is what you get with Wavetale. What you do at the beginning of the game is almost exactly what you’ll do at the end, and many objectives are repeated. But the game is both short and exciting enough to not outstay its welcome, at a brief five or so hours of gameplay.
My only real criticisms of Wavetale are that the combat is mostly boring, and it might not be worth full price given its short length. A larger game of this quality would be a masterpiece, but as it is, Wavetale is a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon or two and a great way to end the year.
Wavetale is out now on PlayStation 4 and 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S, and PC for $29.99.
Watch the Review in 3 Minutes for Wavetale.