Islands of Wakfu is a prologue tie-in video game to the animated series, "Wakfu," which is the tie-in to an MMORPG that is also titled Wakfu — and it, in turn, is the sequel to the MMORPG Dofus, which has an upcoming tie-in animated series. Both are free-to-play MMOs, with the animated series costing more to make than either of them. Ultimately, Islands of Wakfu is a promotion for two MMOs; it's arguably better than either of them and is able to stand on its own reasonably well.
The story begins with a weird meteor coming toward a verdant, beautiful Earth-like realm. The animation style is distinctly painted like some children's books. On this world, the Eliatropes live a peaceful life that's connected with nature. You are two (yes, two) of the children of this world: the impractically dressed young female monk, Nora, and her water dragon twin brother, Efrim. Being born together is an unusual, advantageous trait that leads to your rapidly being initiated into an elite order of guardians and granted an Eliacube — a talking, hyperintelligent cube. You are quickly put through the first trial of initiation and explained why you're on the fast track: Bad things are coming, and you've got to stop them.
While the core plot's pretty typical, Wakfu is not precisely a sensible world. There's plenty of the French comedy that's present in some of the Rayman series. In addition to the companion cube, other details prevent things from feeling very serious at all, including animated, privacy-invading candies and singing trees that have trouble conducting flowers and the 8-bit music that suddenly plays when you reach a minigame built entirely out of wood. The effect captures the feel of a good children's animation: silly and completely wacky, but believable and warm.
The actual gameplay is an isometric brawler, with the two creative touches being the switching between Nora and Efrim. Nora can fight up close effectively with the now-common two-button schema and is capable of simple, one-tap teleportation, while Efrim can spit balls of water as a basic, serviceable ranged attack. While some new moves unlock, you rarely need more than the core stack of abilities. There are some puzzles that are solved with unique tools, such as Efrim's platypus, which you can control with the right thumbstick, independently of Efrim. Smooth animations and responsive controls make the gameplay simple and effective, so the game is more than able to satisfy one's desire for a basic brawler. The teleportation is not targetable, but that rarely limits its utility.
Unfortunately, while a few adventure elements spice up the gameplay, there isn't a lot of depth to Islands of Wakfu. The 14 levels go by just quickly enough for the player to realize that he's only playing for the fun story and world setting. If he happens to get into Wakfu from this game, he may find the MMO less enjoyable — as an MMO strategy RPG, it's pretty sedate — but will certainly enjoy the cartoon, which explores the same imaginative, humorous setting more effectively. This would only qualify as unusual because normally, the first version of a source is the best, but here, it's the second of three (not counting Dofus).
The fun story is assisted greatly by an excellent, if bare-bones, presentation. The graphical style is reminiscent of the show; it avoids direct cel-shading in favor of a smoothly animated style that resembles paintings in children's books. The music is enjoyable, if unexceptional, fitting in rather than standing out. Sound effects are basic, but more than serviceable, while the game uses minimal voice work (the characters speak something akin to Simlish, and the game provides subtitles). This comes at a cost of slowing down the story a tiny bit, but it's generally all right.
At $15, Islands of Wakfu is a fine (but only fine) addition to a brawler fan's library. Fans of the show or MMOSRPG should find plenty to enjoy here, while non-fans can get into the plot and world sufficiently without foreknowledge. Unfortunately, the game is outmatched by other brawlers readily available on Xbox Live Arcade, such as the cheaper Scott Pilgrim, limiting its audience to fans of the existing setting, or those who have played the available offerings and need more. Those who want more of the genre could do a lot worse than this, especially if they like a nice art style along with their kicking and punching. Hopefully, Ankama will keep making minor tweaks to the formula for future offerings.
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