Sometimes, a super cute game comes along that sets impossible standards for all other games in my life. Once, that was Yoshi’s Story. After that, the sweetness of Wind Waker stole my heart. This year’s addition, which may very well be the cutest game I’ve ever played, is Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles.
I can hear you doubting me already. You might even think you can name a handful of games that are cuter. But I challenge you to beat the adorableness of this game. You collect cats. You befriend round, fluffy animals. Friends are earned by feeding them pounds and pounds of food. If only real life was this delightful.
The game starts as you return to the lands where you were born. A terrible murk has swallowed much of the area, and it’s up to you to return Gemea to its former paradise. You recruit the help of darling little sprites to clear the dark clouds. Along the way, you can build farms, learn crafting skills, and offer assistance to the citizens.
This is a stunningly beautiful, impeccable release by the newly developed team at Prideful Sloth. They call themselves a micro-AAA studio, which means they create high-quality games at AAA-studio pace with only a handful of people. Yonder has a vast, open-world map, and it took them less than three years to get it from prototype to release. Controls are intuitive and switch flawlessly from keyboard to controller. UI and map designs are polished. This doesn’t feel like an indie release at all.
As you explore Gemea, you’ll discover eight distinct environments. They range from ice-covered mountains to bubbling swamps. Each environment is gorgeous, with bright colors, deep shadows, and the utmost attention to detail. The flowers you find in The Grasslands are different than those you’ll collect in the forest. You’ll even discover new creatures in each biome, from the tiniest penguins to giant yak-type creatures called Groffles. My personal favorites were the rotund, flower-covered pigs of the Crestfall Coast region. The animals are shy at first, but if you feed them their favorite food, they are happy to follow you around. If you’ve built a farm in the area, you can even adopt them! The animals produce materials that can then be used to trade for important building and quest items.
If you decide you need an extra hand on your farm, you can recruit townsfolk as farmhands. The one and only way to do this is to feed your potential farmhand lots and lots of food. Unlike similar befriending games, Gemea’s townspeople aren’t picky. They’ll eat anything. Ten wheels of cheese seem to do the trick. Or ten blocks of butter. Twenty raw mushrooms may seem like overkill, but they’ll happily eat every one. Once your friendship level has been met through an abundance of foods, you can send them off to work your farm while you adventure.
As you explore Gemea, you use a world map, mini map, and compass to guide you. The compass works much like a quest log. Pulling out your compass allows you to select a quest, and it will direct you to the end goal. The world map shows where you can find the cities you’ve discovered, your farms, murk that needs to be cleared, traders, and other points of interest. The maps are easy to read and even help to show you the altitude of areas, which helps a lot when you are trying to navigate around a large mountain. However, there’s no option to fast travel by map locations.
Travel is slow, and I found myself doing a lot of running back and forth across Gemea. You run at a single speed, and the only way to fast-travel between locations is to use Sage Stones. There’s one Sage Stone for each environment, and often they are found deep underground or high atop a hill, which makes them a little inconvenient. Slow travel is okay when you first start out, as it’s wonderful to take your time exploring each new area. However, as soon as you need to hunt down a resource at the opposite end of the map, you’ll wish there was a faster method of travel. Maybe we could tame larger animals as mounts? Or use crafting abilities to build basic vehicles? These would be welcome additions to the Yonder world.
Travel and trade are tied hand-in-hand. Instead of using currency, most trading is done by swapping items in your inventory for shop items of equal or lesser value. Most items you’ll need to purchase are of a low value, which makes it nearly impossible to clear out your personal inventory. You rarely trade multiple items for a single item, it’s usually a fairly even trade. The only reliable way to create space in your backpack is to leave materials at one of your farms. Luckily, the inventories are shared between all farms, but I still found myself doing a significant amount of running around.
I felt that the time I spent managing my inventory and tracking down the materials I needed to build bridges, craft items, and enhance my farm detracted from my enjoyment of the game. Being able to upgrade backpack storage, more efficiently fast travel between farms and towns, or even sell items for money would help to address this concern.
However, there’s plenty of adorable side quests available to keep you entertained while you travel. You’ll discover a cat lady who recruits you to find all 55 of her lost cats. They are found rolling around and purring in the strangest of places. A hipster scarecrow wants to make sure you acquire the hottest fashions. Help a woman track down a rare fish so she can enter a beard competition. There’s so much to explore, that by the time I completed the main story line, I had nearly forgotten my character’s backstory.
I highly encourage anyone who lost themselves for hours in Stardew Valley or Wind Waker to check out this high-quality, adorable release by Prideful Sloth. If you want more information, you can find our PAX East interview with the developers here and about 40 minutes of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles gameplay on our YouTube channel here. If you do explore Gemea, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of those flower pigs. They sure are cute.
A PC review copy of Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles was provided by Prideful Sloth for the purpose of this review