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Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Developer: Dim Bulb Games
Release Date: Nov. 29, 2019

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Where the Water Tastes Like Wine'

by Joseph Doyle on Jan. 15, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is an adventure game, inspired by the folk tales and folk music of America, about traveling, sharing stories, and surviving manifest destiny.

Do you ever wish that our world hadn't been made so small? What if we regressed technologically and were forced to interact more with each other socially? Where the Water Tastes Like Wine gives us a fantastical view of the past in the United States, putting us back in the early 20th century in the shoes of a wayfaring story collector. Dim Bulb Studios locks in on the curiosity inspired by both traveling and storytelling, and the developer runs with it. Where the Water Tastes Like Wine celebrates the culture and community of the U.S. in an intriguing way by employing a variety of gameplay systems and techniques.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine employs the childlike whimsy of folklore. It opens with a Sam Elliott sound-alike narrating a card game that you enter in a bar on a whim, creating a scene as American as a Norman Rockwell painting — but more willing to get down and dirty. A seemingly winning hand goes south as the final player's head transforms into that of a demonic wolf. He's a demon, and he tasks you to travel the country collecting and sharing stories to repay your gambling debt.

From here, the tone changes drastically, and the gameplay changes from a sea of dialogue boxes to a land you travel as a wayfaring skeleton (complete with straw hat and bindle), exploring big American cities on a map of the U.S., gathering stories to share, and looking for the 16 characters you must extract stories from along the way. As you explore, you encounter scenarios that turn into stories, shaped by the choices you make, spinning different yarns with different tones (all aligned to tarot cards). You bop from place to place, managing money and health as a passing thought, in the hopes of finding one of these characters to share stories with and glean for yourself, choosing from your collection of tales to best suit their tastes.

The concept is pretty interesting, but the implementation is rather rudimentary. The game is largely comprised of static images and is pretty clunky. The overworld, if you will, features your 3D skeleton lumbering from place to place while music that emulates the phrase "whistlin' Dixie" plays. It's somewhat distracting to both traversing the country and reading and hearing the stories that you collect.

The most fascinating aspect is the stories. The narrator shifts tone to more modest man, grumbling through his words in a warm, grandfatherly manner this time around, reading through almost all of the hundreds of short stories presented in the game; it's a real treat given the talent of the voice actor. What also must be noted is the quality of the story; the tales woven by the game are all pretty captivating, ranging from the exciting to the macabre and even the supernatural, resembling the works of Flannery O'Connor in tone. Overall, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine's unique concept makes the game incredibly interesting but doesn't distract from its faults enough.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine boasts an intriguing art style that unfortunately lacks follow-through. The same art style is in the main menu and the sections of the game where stories are told and shared, using scratchy pencil art for the illustration and menu items to give the game its offbeat yet devilish tone, perhaps emulating the terror of Francisco Goya's pinturas negras. Each story features a single piece of art, from a boy lounging in the grass to a girl carrying a wheelbarrow, where subtlety is key. Upon further inspection or continuation of the story, maybe you'll notice the white beady eyes from under the hay in the wheelbarrow, or that the boy is just a bit too still. The art is simple yet effective.

The overworld takes on a very different tack. The cities and map you travel on appear similar to an elementary school classroom poster, and everything on the map has a very basic 3D appearance to it, including buildings, forests, and the UI over the highways. These two parts of the game don't appear to have anything in common visually, which makes the game feel like two different parts. It's basically as if someone took the dialogue parts and the movement parts of a Telltale game (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, etc.) and kept the movement parts the same (similarly clunky but more so in this game) but chose a completely different art style for the dialogue choices. While the storytelling art is interesting and tonally appropriate, the overworld of the game is so far from the tone and storytelling sections that the title ends up feeling like two different ideas smashed together.

The music featured in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a hodgepodge of American music. The U.S. has boasted the creation and proliferation of its own music genres for years, and this title both recognizes and celebrates this through its music. From the twang of banjos in Bluegrass pieces to the blaring, dueling trumpets and guitars in the Western songs and the bouncy drums and piano in jazz pieces, Ryan Ike covers all the bases of American music in the score. What's even more impressive is that the music changes genres based on where you're traveling on the map — folky music in the northeast, hefty guitar blues in the south, etc. — to build the atmosphere of the game that's so integral to its delivery. Overall, the soundtrack is a good, generic smattering of the music the U.S. has to offer, and it comes across well.

On the other hand, the choice of how to implement the music is aggravating. Dim Bulb Games was thoughtful enough to include a nigh-permanent narrator for the hundreds of stories you collect in the game, but they lacked that same consideration when deciding to play music that includes lyrics during the narration. While the lyrics can be slightly irritating when traversing the map, it is downright infuriating when someone else is speaking, and it makes it incredibly difficult to pay attention. This usage of the well-constructed music for the game is unfortunately both disappointing and glaring.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine brings a lot to the table, especially in terms of ideas. The tone and narrative hook the player immediately, and the aesthetics, music, and the short stories all come together to make an incredibly thought-provoking game that's worth checking out. However, the way the music is used, the somewhat clunky gameplay and controls, and the unpolished look and feel of the game make it feel like too many ideas were smashed together, so it's summarily a tough sell. While I am incredibly fascinated with the roots of American folklore and media in general, it would be difficult to suggest this to someone lacking the same fascination. This title oozes Americana at every turn, which is beautiful and fascinating, but it's not for everyone. This game isn't worth a deal with a devil, but it could be worth it for you if there's a good deal. Just don't put up your soul as collateral. 

Score: 7.0/10

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