It was only a matter of time before the clones showed up, but The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was undoubtedly a paradigm shift in open-world gaming; so it is only natural that other aspiring game developers and designers would feel inclined to emulate it. Windbound is perhaps the most obvious of these, but to call it a straight-up clone would be a little unfair. Sure, the tribal-infused, cel-shaded visuals are obviously inspired by Nintendo’s worldwide hit and the general feel of the adventure is similar—minus the epic set pieces of Hyrule or a demonic incarnation of Ganondorf—but Windbound takes a far more grounded approach, with the focus being on survival rather than discovery.
Windbound starts off with a storm at sea, as our hero finds herself drowning into a watery abyss—before seemingly getting a second chance at life after passing through some sort of afterlife portal. Early on, it becomes clear that this island-survival game is a rogue-like adventure, which means there are multiple chances at this life for our resourceful, yet clumsy, hero. Although the progression of this chapter-based journey is about traversing uncharted waters and discovering new islands, the core gameplay experience is largely about survival and resource management.
Whereas Link in Breath of the Wild was able to cook up meals and maybe craft a few handy items, in Windbound these processes are a lot more essential and demanding. Hunger and stamina levels need to be balanced, and a range of materials need to be scavenged and foraged to craft everything from weapons to canoes. Whether it’s meals, tools, or even modes of transport, nothing is really handed to the player in Windbound. No Bunnings around the corner from here.
Windbound is an engrossing adventure—as long as you know what you are signing up for. If you walk in expecting a lighter Breath of the Wild that will keep you occupied until the inevitable sequel lands sometime in the near future, then chances are you will be disappointed. To be fair, the trailers and promotion don’t exactly shy away from those Zelda vibes, but they’re not exactly accurate. This is a survival and resource management game, where players will be spending more time managing items in their inventory than exploring puzzle-filled dungeons.
While the visuals and overall presentation aren’t exactly original, the graphics still impress where it counts and the sound design really shines through in creating a sense of atmosphere. It’s generally a relaxing tropical affair, but there are profound existential motifs too. It definitely feels like a higher-budget title thanks to the open-world illusion created by the presentation—even if the actual scope of its ambition is largely limited to crafting within the many, many menu systems.
Windbound as an experience isn’t all arts, crafts, and cooking, as hunting also makes up a huge part of the gameplay, and there is a whole wildlife of fantastical creatures to hunt and battle. The combat mechanics are perhaps where the Zelda comparisons ring most true, but obviously the intent of these battles are a little different—where the reward is in the form of extra resources and other delicacies extracted from your foe. It’s like Link and MacGyver all wrapped up into one resourceful lady who finds herself in one hell of a Cast Away situation…sans Wilson and FedEx, of course.
Although there is some sincere attempts at evoking a sense of exploration and wonder here, Windbound doesn’t quite let you embark with freedom—given the challenges of sailing and managing a constant sense of hunger for our starved and stranded hero. So, at the end of the day, if you’re after an engrossing survival experience where you bring together a range of materials to craft items that can help you progress to the next chapter, then Windbound will deliver in spades. If you’re expecting a Breath of the Wild surrogate, then you’re better off waiting for the 2021 sequel. In the meantime? Build a canoe.