Wanderlust: Rebirth is the answer to the question; what would an MMO on the SNES be like? I guess the question that follows would be; why would anyone play an MMO on the SNES? There wasn’t even 56k dialup back then, let alone a modem for the thing. Luckily we live in a futuristic age where we are able to live out ironic flights of fantasy such as this. I have no problem with nostalgic and throw back gaming experiences but unfortunately Wanderlust relies too much on the charms of an earlier age without providing much in the way of actual fun.
After the creation of one of four character classes you are released into the world of Hyrule. I mean, Westhaven. Or maybe that’s just the name of a town. Anyways, I was expecting the world to be open and wide but it is in fact broken down into minute scenes and segments. These segments guide you in a linear fashion through the game’s 10 chapter story. There will often be no more than four enemies in a segment which are often composed of a single screen of landscape. For a game that clearly takes a fair bit of influence from classic Zelda games the lack of an over world is disappointing. Even a little bit of exploration in these areas would’ve been nice, perhaps a side area here and there. Unfortunately the seemingly inappropriately named Wanderlust prefers to give you a very narrow and constricting path to travel.
The four classes are all somewhat distinct each with a distinguishable gimmick and play style. Unfortunately for most of the classes the W-A-S-D and directional arrows control set up doesn’t lend itself well to an action RPG experience (even if it’s a 16 bit one). The controls are far too clunky making dodging attacks or running away from enemies a pain and the seemingly slow response speed detracts from any feeling of intuition. The stand out class is the Elementalist which is basically a Wizard/Magic User type archetype. It is the only class that uses the mouse and basically the only one I had any fun playing. The mouse cursor is used to direct and cast spells, which works infinitely better than the directional arrows which the other classes use for their abilities. Even then, the controls to do simple things like change spells are unnecessarily convoluted requiring you to do keyboard gymnastics like shift right-click then drag with the left mouse button.
Most of the game will ignore the mouse (as in: you can’t use it) even when navigating game menus and more importantly inventories and character screens. I don’t really see why this has happened because the Elementalist class proves you can use the mouse within the engine and the mouse has over the years proved to be a pretty handy and intuitive peripheral. Wanderlust chooses to do away with the mouse and as such day-to-day staple activities of the action RPG genre, like equipping items and selling them, are needlessly painful. You know something’s wrong when it’s a pain in the ass to equip items in an Action RPG.
The biggest thing holding me back from enjoying Wanderlust: Rebirth is its horribly low resolution. I dig the art style, it’s obviously incredibly derivative but it’s nostalgic, cute and works. If the game just bumped up the resolution a little, it would look pretty nifty. But my main complaint here is that the resolution is so low it adversely affects the gameplay. The best example I can think of for this is the warrior class. One of the major gameplay mechanics of this class is its ability to block attacks. Block two and counter and you deliver a critical hit. Now the problem with this is, with the low resolution, it’s almost impossible to actually see what’s going on in a melee especially with the “Boom, Bap, Pow!” effects being rendered over the top of characters. You can’t discern what’s going on in a fight, so everything just devolves to an exercise in button mashing and hoping for the best. When there are four other player characters or AI followers on-screen the game quickly becomes a pixely undecipherable mess. Good luck trying to counter enemy attacks when you can’t see yourself, let alone said enemy.
Wanderlust: Rebirth must be enjoyable to some people as it has been kicking around since 2006. Its recent release on Steam was my impetus for checking it out and I’m kind of hard pressed to recommend it. The classes are definitely all unique and the art style shows a loving adoration for a by-gone era. Unfortunately the restrictive world and messy, unintuitive game play stop me from thinking that re-creating an online action RPG experience within the world of the SNES was a good idea. This particular link to the past is only getting 2/5 stars.