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Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (Switch) artwork

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (Switch) review

"Whipseey and the Lost Atlas is the story of how a few seemingly minor issues can turn a decent game into a mess."

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas has charm. I'll give it that. It's almost a great game. I'll give it that, too. But alas, it is a lackluster one in the end. So much for my giving spirit, right?

If you look at the screenshots or even some video of the game in motion, you might be convinced--like I was--that it's a cutesy platformer easily capable of justifying its relatively low asking price on the Nintendo eShop. The visuals are reminiscent of early titles such as Kirby's Adventure, with rounded doors waiting in the middle of nowhere and platforms that look like they've been frosted with the same stuff you find on Pop-Tarts. Even the hero himself, who was once a boy but is now a pink puffball with a whip ability, feels somehow familiar.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (Switch) image

Aurally, the game is similarly solid. It features simple tunes that suit the action nicely and give the player the sense he is lost in a wonderland of sorts. Most of what's here would fit nicely in a classic 16-bit or 32-bit title, even if it didn't quite get into my head the way some of the classic earworms did. In short, everything looks and sounds just right, which is why a quick glance at this game's screenshots or trailer screams "Buy me, you retro loving fool!"

Full disclosure: I did not buy my copy of the game. I asked for and received a review key, and I sat down and started playing with a definite sense of anticipation. But issues kicked in almost immediately and I felt a sense of dread creeping in to replace my initial goodwill. "If this game already feels cheap and awkward in the opening stages," my inner critic started asking, "how much worse will it get as I progress toward the end?"

The answer is: much worse.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (Switch) image

There are two principle issues that contribute to an unpleasant overall experience, and I'll admit they don't sound like much on paper. Whipseey doesn't jump quite right, and he doesn't remain invulnerable for a long enough period after taking damage.

Let me talk about the jumping first, since that winds up being a huge deal. The best way I know to describe the problem is to say that Whipseey feels heavier than he should. He looks like he ought to be able to float gently down from the peak of an arc, almost like Kirby might. But almost immediately after he springs into the air, he starts plummeting like a rock dropped from great heights. You can press the jump button again and hold it to use his whip as a propeller that slows his descent, but the timing required for an optimal maneuver is pretty strict.

This plays into the stage design. There are points when you must leap along a series of ledges and swing your whip out to a circular grapple point ahead of you, so you can swing like the hero in Bionic Commando. I've played a lot of games with a similar mechanic, so muscle memory inevitably tries to kick in and it screws me over because Whipseey is already dropping before the whipping follow-up seems like it should need to take place. I had to practice a lot--and I died a lot, because these sequences take place over bottomless pits--to finally reach a point where I could execute with some consistency.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (Switch) image

As I mentioned a moment ago, the window of invulnerability doesn't feel quite right, either. If you take damage, you won't have long to get out of harm's way before another notch is knocked off your life meter. Even a weak enemy might hit you a couple of times--or more--if you get caught unawares, and life refills are available in short supply. Beyond the few potions you find laying about, you just defeat enemies to collect small little pellets (and larger blue ones) that allow you to gain extra lives and extend your run.

Stages consist of a series of short areas linked together by the aforementioned doors. The challenges are cleverly presented, with obvious effort made to keep things engaging and fair. Usually, you find a new enemy or situation in a very small room, introduced in its most toothless form, and then you progress to subsequent chambers that add additional wrinkles to the mix. For instance, you come across a frog that puffs up and then expels a projectile in a straight line. You can easily jump the projectile as you advance on the frog and take it out with a quick whip. Soon, you are leaping along a series of ledges, rebounding from enemies that produce periodic bursts of electricity. You have to jump and land on them between bursts, then spring into the air and glide to the next target while being careful not to land too early or too late, lest you hit either a shocking barrier or a bit of frog phlegm and fall backward into a pit.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (Switch) image

Unfortunately, stages start to feel a bit long after a while--even though they're not really--because there are cheap bottlenecks where you can easily burn through your supply of however many lives you have on hand. Spikes here are of the Mega Man variety, meaning a slight brush against them is fatal (and Whipseey moves jerkily under water rather than bobbing gently, so avoiding the hazard is a lot harder in a lot of cases than feels quite fair). Or you have to jump and swing to a distant ledge and it takes three or four tries because you still haven't gotten the hang of jumping and there's a slope just ahead of the gap that will send you sliding into it if you're not careful. Or you have to leap toward a ledge with an enemy perched along its ledge, just after the fellow throws an explosive cocktail. You have to land just ahead of it and whip it before it tosses another one, but if you don't do that just perfectly, you're knocked back into a pit. Again and again and again. It's so bad that I thought I must be missing something, that maybe I could deflect a shot to harm the enemy so I could approach the ledge in a way that wouldn't lead to weeping and cussing and the gnashing of teeth. I could not.

Boss battles, although they introduce obvious patterns that should enable success, often amount to a grueling affair where you'll figure out what you need to do almost immediately but will perhaps struggle to pull it off because the jumps required are too precise, or because your foe's life meter lasts so long that you take too much damage while responding to the threat as intended. It is all thoroughly infuriating, especially if you fail to win several times and then you are sent back to the beginning of the stage to try again. At least your progress saves automatically as you clear each stage. That's something. The sense of relief that I felt over never having to play a stage again once I completed it is probably not ideal.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas (Switch) image

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas looks and sometimes even feels the part of a retro throwback that got everything right. It's a true shame that playing it feels so awful, because there's a lot here that I quite like. I just can't recommend a game that lets a few miscalculations so thoroughly infuse its otherwise competent design with frustration. It's likely you'll either blaze through this one in a hurry and move onto something else, or you'll tarry much longer because you're determined to get the best of the miserable gauntlet it presents. Neither of those most probable experiences is likely to lead to satisfaction and accolades.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 28, 2019)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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