Not the best place to start – a pun – but WHALIEN – Unexpected Guests is full of ’em. Forbidden Folds started. A third-person puzzle adventure set aboard a mechanical whale… yes, the premise for this game is certainly odd.
One can never judge a game solely by graphics, obviously, but the colourful screenshots that accompanied the press material for this indie were very nice. However, in action, the visuals are much better, and this game is one of the better-looking games of 2023. As for the gameplay, whale…
But first, this. In WHALIEN – Unexpected Guests, you play a salty seadog named Ernest Hemingwhale, who lives up to his misspelt namesake by protecting this very much alive home. As per the first bit, you’re inside an enormous mechanical whale named Fin, rented out to a bundle of tenants who have since vacated due to an infestation of Squiddies. Ernest begins to rid these glutinous squatters, cleaning Fin’s blowhole. Yes, it’s very safe for work and family-friendly.
WHALIEN – Unexpected Guests Review
Sporting a rotund physique and facial hair, our tubby hero doesn’t hop on the Squiddies or throw fireballs at them. Instead, they make the most of their environment by throwing objects within their vicinity and lobbing at the bad guys. Alternatively, if you can’t be arsed, you can walk into them to kill them with some push button spamming without consuming any health. There is none.
Ernest can throw objects not just through his burly strength but with special push and pull gloves, operated by the left and right mouse buttons, respectively. In close quarters you can spam the buttons and push everything over, thus killing the enemies, or you can pick up bulky items using telekinesis, aim, and then throw relatively far. This is more relevant to switch-type puzzles as there’s not much point killing the Squiddies unless you’re a completionist.
The object physics in WHALIEN – Unexpected Guests is pretty good as they launch, bounce, collide, and then get in your way if you throw them in front of a doorway. Again, spam push and hey presto – a clear path. Ernest, however, is like operating a dump truck with iffy gravity behaviours – he can’t jump too far, and due to some of the camera angles (which can be moved with the mouse), it’s easy to stack it and then to have to restart at a pre-determined spawn point.
A Whale Of A Time?
But perhaps what I found more perplexing about WHALIEN – Unexpected Guests wasn’t the character’s movement but the desire to play the game. Sure, it looks pretty, and it’s for a good cause (protecting Fin from the inside), but there wasn’t any connection with the characters – especially the springy people, who mostly felt like placeholders, setting optional quests that could be easily bypassed. Ok, it’s great not having to do a mandatory side quest, but I didn’t feel compelled to hang around in any one place other than admiring the rendering, so I more or less steamed through.
It’s a short game, too, so rushing through didn’t help. Besides the springy people, there are collectable stickers that tell the story of whale living. That’s not the official term, mind. Additionally, the gloves get power-up pearls – Mr Push and Mrs Pull that can be launched at objects, just as levers, fallen bridges, and other pushing/pulling material, which engages the grey matter in places. But perhaps the worst part for me was the very annoying voiceovers for the characters, meaning you can’t listen to the conversations and have to stop to read. Not such a bad thing, then, as the pun-fueled writing is well done.
Short and sweet, WHALIEN – Unexpected Guests is a good filler between other games if you’re in the mood for something not too taxing, that’s upbeat in the atmosphere, and pretty to look at. The physics elements were the highlight for me, but there wasn’t enough material to keep me hooked. More push than pull.