Wildwood Down Preview: Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Not just marking the spooky season, October is Down Syndrome Awareness month. One developer, Crashable Studios, is highlighting the condition in the best possible way, with an indie. Wildwood Down has an alpha demo out right now, and, as the game promises laughs, scares, and a hero with a unique perspective, who could resist?

I jumped into this early build and right off the bat loved the aesthetic. Wildwood Down is a 3D pixel art title, and I know some people may read that and think of other games with 2.5D visuals. But this look is one I’ve never quite seen. It’s like the pixel characters are molded onto a dimensional characters. With objects in the background, like fluffy clouds and voluminous beach balls, providing a striking contrast — the effect is eye-catching.

However, the game’s signature look comes after a live-action opening, featuring the protagonist’s real-life inspiration. He tells you everything you need to know. “My name is Daniel. I’m your local hero,” he says before beckoning the player to sit down for a story.

Foreshadowing of the upcoming sinister plot is soon out of mind as I watch a group of pixelated high school seniors — Daniel included — on the road to an anticipated beach fest. It’s at this point I’ll give you a heads up: You’re going to hate Josh. I stole that garbage human’s hat as soon as possible, threw it out of the car, and didn’t feel a moment’s remorse.

Wildwood Down showcases many aspects of living with Down Syndrome, but one of the hardest to bear in this early look is Josh’s open prejudice for the protagonist. And it’s not something the player can escape because Josh is dating Daniel’s sister. Hence, the hat getting thrown out the window. It’s really the only way to fight against the jerk. The move prompted an unexpected cutscene showing the cap landing on the road with a mysterious booted figure trampling on it, menacingly, soon after. It’s the first hint that something even darker is going on here.

Storytelling and art are hitting hard so far but telegraphing what to do to the player falls slightly behind. The title is a pretty straightforward point-and-click adventure. But two times in the demo, I sought wildly to figure out how to move the game forward. It is an amazing help that I can hold down the right mouse button to highlight anything interactable I might have missed.

Still, I spent a long minute trying to get the car trip off the road. I also entered a lemonade-drinking contest about five times to trial-and-error my way to winning. But this being an alpha of the game — sure to net the developers a ton of player feedback — there’s a lot of time to polish these details up.

Humor is another delightful thread that weaves through every scene in Wildwood Down. From “helpfully” wrapping a overheating elderly man in a damp towel to blowing up a small food stand, there are laughs to be had at almost every turn. I suspect this will make the murder mystery about to unfold all the more impactful. And Daniel’s sister being gone for so long begins to feel unsettling. You can head to the game’s website to check out the alpha demo and uncover more of its mysteries for yourself while October lasts.

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