With comic books, toys, apparel, and the tactical MMORPGs Dofus and Wakfu to its credit, the “World Of Twelve” has been steadily expanding its borders over the last five years, mostly abroad. Not everyone thinks leveling up a character’s baking proficiency is a worthwhile use of time, though, so Ankama Games has decided to retain the setting and ditch the character-creation screen in its first Xbox Live Arcade offering, Islands Of Wakfu, which features lush, hand-drawn environments and a semi-satisfying fusion of brawler and shoot-’em-up.
Theoretically, there’s an adventure game hidden under the painterly, isometric visuals, but Islands’ 14 levels aren’t long on conversation, puzzles, or town-exploration—which is fine, seeing as how the story is set 10,000 years before the events of Dofus, and is communicated in dribs and drabs that are more distracting than illuminating. All players need to know is that the paradisiacal world of the eliatropes is under attack by the forces of Stasis—the yin to Wakfu’s yang—and that it’s up to the sibling pair of Nora and Efrim to set things right through a combination of teleportation-abetted roundhouse kicks and dragon spit.
Hatched from the same egg, the eliatrope Nora and her dragon brother Efrim share a special bond that lets players switch between them at the push of a button. Nora is a master of “Dimensional Arts,” i.e. transporting herself across the map and behind enemies for sneak attacks, and Efrim can soar over gaps and launch balls of concentrated wakfu at the approaching horde. A co-op mode allows for some serious, screen-spanning mayhem, and the shrewd decision to have the twins share the same life bar necessitates good teamwork and judicious application of special moves.
In spite of all the lip-service paid to the balance between Wakfu and Stasis, however, the game’s combat feels distinctly lopsided: Efrim is a weakling, so Islands plays out as more brawler than shooter. Nora’s great strength resides not just in her damage-dealing capability, however, but in her potential for teleportation spamming. A brief window of invulnerability accompanies each dimensional shift, and since there’s practically no cool-down time, some encounters can be won almost entirely with the left bumper button. Still, boss battles are often incredibly taxing (an easier “goddess mode” is provided, thankfully), especially if Nora has neglected to purchase new moves at one of the game’s scattered skills kiosks.
Though the combat is thin soup at times, and Islands commits that cardinal gaming sin of repeating a boss with a new sprite and more hit points, there’s a lot to like about this surprisingly lengthy prequel. 800 Microsoft points buys a lot of content, and there are interesting cross-platform perks, like the ability to turn achievements into exclusive items for use in the series’ MMORPG iterations. As a shooter and as an adventure title, Islands isn’t convincing, but its splashily superficial, fast-paced mêlées justify waiting to see what’s around the next well-rendered bend.