Developer: Crayder Studios
Publisher: Crayder Studios
It turns out that teenage angst, pixel art, and supernatural forces are a winning combination for a good modern brawler. Wishmere is a beat ’em up that’s got a Double Dragon soul, Kung-Fu Master‘s sidescrolling chaos, and a bizarre, metaphorical tale of unexpected depth. It takes a risk by choosing the overworked high school setting, although Crayder Studios cleverly dodges the bullet of potential banality with characters who poke fun at each other, a rip-roaring blast of an electro-rock OST, plus the most essential piece of the puzzle: enjoyable fighting.
There’s a surprising amount of content behind Hazelwood High’s walls. As ordinary as they might seem, things quickly detour into atypical territory when criminals break into the corridors and a group of kids is teleported to another dimension called “The Nexus”. There they meet Elreed, God of Dreams, a benevolent guardian who imbues the gang (Duu Shen, Earle, Dove, Sabson, Spritz and Pandy) with special, mystical energy that transforms them into wishmere.
Super-powered and ready for battle, they’re called upon to defeat ancient spirit demon Doubt, a man who’s hellbent on world destruction and true to his name, tempts you into believing you’ll fail. All these cutscenes are completely optional since you can avoid them in free mode, but the script writing is thoughtful, intelligent and funny, so I definitely recommend story mode here. Of course, Wishmere accounts for fans of the fighting-only template too, offering practice, two-player versus and base of darkness modes, the last of which is a ten round brawlathon with waves of Doubt’s cronies to pummel.
By virtue of an extremely user-friendly tutorial, Wishmere sets itself up as digestible for newcomers while catering to fighting game professionals who enjoy a vast repertoire of button configurations. From basic light and hard attacks, to blocks, to the godly kamehameha-style ultimate art barrage, so yes, there’s quite a bit to remember. Committing every attack to memory is slightly daunting, however, learning the basics and smart, defensive playstyle will serve in your favour no matter which level you tackle.
With no checkpoints, Wishmere embraces a tough beat ’em up ethos even on medium difficulty. After falling in battle to the fourth boss a few times, I wished for a end-of-level save feature, but the general level of challenge is very well calibrated. Naturally, there are easy and hard difficulties as well so players have the freedom to pick whichever one feels most suitable. Sending hordes of baddies to the afterlife feels satisfying, and so does perfecting the techniques necessary to do so.
Fireball hurling monks, shielded warriors and forward rolling pests approach, force you to decide who’s worthy of being eliminated first, deploy a creative blend of attacks, and, when their pixel forms all merge into a giant path-blocking mass, trick your health meter into depleting too rapidly for its own good. In events like those, escape is a nerve-wracking but wonderful sensation, especially when you make it home safe with a sliver of energy.
In the character menu, Wishmere‘s artistic direction is definitely reminiscent of older beat ’em ups like Streets of Rage, with core gameplay makes way for cutesy chibi models who aren’t as detailed and give off an anime RPG vibe. This puts a novel spin on things, however, I do think they’d lift the game’s visuals if they had pixel perfect facial definition, clearer outlines, and a variety of attractive colour gradations.
Despite that, Wishmere is a fiesty little beat ’em up gem that’s stitched up beautifully. Effortlessly humorous, it succeeds in creating a challenging fighting game experience that can be enjoyed by all, and balances wonderful button-mashing quests atop a story that rises to the same level.
Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.