๐Ÿ› ️ Review: Yonder The Cloud Catcher Chronicles "Think of a more sedate Breath of the Wild, where combat and puzzles are replaced with crafting and stone masonry badges" ๐Ÿ› ️ @squareblind #GameDev

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"Think of a more sedate Breath of the Wild, where combat and puzzles are replaced with crafting and stone masonry badges. This is Yonder, a simple, yet engaging and relatively budget friendly title"

Imagine an adventure very much in the broad open world-style of Breath of the Wild, albeit with its combat mechanics and armies of marauding creatures stripped out entirely.  
In place of monster slaying and finding enchanted weapons is simple foraging.  That may have already scared you off, but stick with me.

This is a game that is still very much about exploring a varied world, albeit one where your main concern is building up your stone masonry and knitting skills. Think an open-ish world version of a crafts and walking holiday.

This is Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles - a sedate, sometimes quite beautiful RPG/collectathon from developer Prideful Sloth.

Washed up onto a magical and relatively varied world, the player explores a land that is slightly blighted by a mysterious purple mist that occasionally blocks their path and threatens to ruin the sedate buzz of the world.

In questing through the land, you can build numerous farms in which to collect creatures and plants that can provide useful materials for building and trading, while finding cutesy creatures that allow for the strange and malign clouds that blight the land to be cleared away.  As the land is improved and your farms begin to thrive, the in-game character becomes more competent in their ability to trade and traverse the world.

At around half the price of the critically adored latest Legend of Zelda title, you may initially think that the reduced price is accounting for the lack of any combat.  

Yet the game is unashamed of its attempts to create an experience where the player can scale snow capped mountains, traverse beautiful beaches and even stargaze constellations on clear nights, worrying only about the practicalities of subsistence farming and finding new outfits.  The game world is made better by a player that can carefully balance living off the land with returning resources to nature - not the worst aspiration for a game.

Short of drowning, which places the player back where they started before falling into deep waters, there is no life bar or damage that they take.  The hammers and sickles and other tools that you are given are purely to cultivate feed for in-game animals, to fish in lakes and open waters or to smash apart rocks for building materials.

Often this is simply a case of selecting the right kind of tool - be it an axe or hammer - and then pushing the action button alongside some mining material or a tree that you smash away to collect the required minerals to get new skills, items or recipies from several themed towns.  It is rather simplistic, but sometimes satisfying in the way a 2d brawler such as Streets of Rage could be when pummeling a weak enemy with punches.
With the exception of a quite intuitive and well thought out fishing mini-game, you are rewarded more for taking the time to stock up on materials from as many of the game’s different vistas that includes deserts, colourful forests and slimy bogs.  

Skill in the game is demonstrated not in how you smash things apart and collect them, but rather in locating and forging key ingredients, and then deciding how best to use them to expand a farm, or open the game world with new bridges.

This should be a repetitive experience, but for the slightly OCD gamer, patience and perseverance is the key challenge and your main opponent in the game, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  

Being challenged to find or fashion or new ingredient such as hair or clothes dye as part of a quest, but then finding you have already acquired the key components needed through your personal travels offers a strange and somewhat sedate form of satisfaction.

This collection of fetch quests is a way to encourage exploration, such as by making you curious and motivated enough to embrace fishing in hidden and obscure stretches of water in the hope of finding a rare and potentially lucrative type of fish.

Similarly, there are quests to plant a certain number of trees in the various areas of the game.  This creates a kind of sustainability mini-game that rewards the player for not just replanting, but ensuring a larger harvest of trees from seeds gathered all around the world are in place by the next season.  Strive hard now and benefit from more materials to farm later in the game.

If you deplete a landscape of its trees, this failure to replant will leave the area baron in time.  It is a small touch that is relatively unexplored in the game, but could become an interesting approach for future titles in a potential series.

Yonder is very much an adventure game, rather than simulation then.

This is aided by the ability to hire non-playable characters from across the world with cheeses, fish and even some raw spuds and mushrooms, so that they will clean up after your animals and harvest any produce from the numerous farms that can be set up in the game.  This automates the process of farming and removes the need, and perhaps challenge, to backtrack and ensure your animals and farms are cared for.

It also allows the player to build lucrative industries out of growing berries and potatoes that risk being game breaking in terms of removing the challenge of having to trade carefully for expensive artifacts and materials.  

With 100 berries or so, the player can obtain almost any exotic objects or materials they choose.

This concern is somewhat undermined by the appeal of expanding farms to capture exotic forms of foxes and bears to add to your growing produce empire - power and money are an aphrodisiac after all, even in virtual worlds.

Interestingly for a game about nature and living off the land, Yonder is somewhat consumerist in its appeal, particularly in encouraging a player to collect as many types of produce and materials that they can.  You never know when an obscure meal, building material or item of clothing may be needed to bring joy to some desperate villager in a faraway town or to win a seasonal fancy dress competition - yes, that is a thing.
These types of games are not for everyone, and there is something quite pleasing that a number of more sedate and less intense experiences for gamers depending on their state of mind are available outside of more intense combat-focused titles.
Yet for younger gamers or players curious about titles such as Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, Yonder is not a bad way to see if such a genre can entertain you at around £22, with the added benefit of mobile play on the Switch allowing for relatively quick pick up and play sessions.
It is a less creative and open game than something such as Minecraft, of which the gathering and building is certainly similar, but Yonder’s simplicity is ultimately central part to its appeal.  The game doesn't feel cheap in stripping away combat completely and has plenty to explore, find and collect.

The music is fairly atmospheric and competent, but the sedate and almost procedural nature of the game makes it seem almost perfectly designed to play while unwinding listening to podcasts or music.
To its credit, rather than detriment, Yonder feels like it may appeal to younger players, not least in its warm and varied colour palette and simple, yet cartoonish characters that can be customised in terms of look, outfits and a number of other decorative factors.  

Come then for the chance of adopting cutesy characters such as the flowery Sprig-Pig and perhaps stay for the excitement of learning the value of a solid cobbled path or sustainably-sourced suspension bridge.
Neil Merrett is the co-founder of the sometimes pretentious gaming site www.squareblind.co.uk and has yet to get the bug for Minecraft or Stardew Valley.

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

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