[Review] Wide Ocean Big Jacket – Nintendo Switch 

Written by Anna Karasik
  • Developer: Turnfollow
  • Publisher: Tender Claws
  • Release Date: 2/4/2020 
  • Price:  £6.29 / $7.99
  • Review code provided by Tender Claws

A tale of two couples

Pre-teens and 30-somethings. How different are we, really? Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a snapshot of a camping trip – an interactive visual novel that lasts for only about an hour. In that short span of time, players will go between chuckling at the characters’ antics, and thinking back on their intimate conversations. 

Because this game is so brief, I will avoid specifics about the story, so as not to spoil anything. 

Summer lovin’

Mord, her bespectacled boyfriend Ben, her Uncle Brad, and his wife Cloanne disembark from their red car to get settled at a campsite. In this quaint setting, we see two couples who are different in age, but alike in that the people involved are still very much growing. In this story, there is no “main” character, but if there were one, it might as well be Mord. With her confidence and blunt commentary, she’s the definition of “13 going on 30.” Her curiosity and naivete give away her youth. Meanwhile, Ben is a bit of comic relief, acting every bit the awkward pubescent boy. Brad and Cloanne, newly married and watching these two kids, find themselves assuming the role of parents. 

Camping activities

Since there is no main character, you get to take control of all four of them at different points. In some sections, you’re able to walk around and speak with others, or interact with the environment. Sometimes, the goal is just to meander along a path. With such a pretty game, I was disappointed to find that panning around while walking doesn’t really work – you have to stand still to really enjoy the scenery. For practical purposes, though, the camera controls are fine as-is. There are also static sections, where you’re simply rotating the camera and choosing characters to speak to. Much of this game is spent reading dialogue – but none of it is voiced, and none of it offers choices for the player. They’re damn cute conversations, though.

Choices come in different, more subtle forms. For example, in an early chapter, a character will inform Mord of an easy solution to a little problem she has. You get a gentle nudge if you try to do it, though – the game asks you if you really want to just “give up.” If you take the time to look around more instead, you’ll find the “real” ending for the chapter. It seems like none of your little decisions affect how future chapters play out, though. Many choices exist simply to enhance your experience. There are segments where you partake in little outdoor activities like bird watching or doing cartwheels, and can choose how long or to what extent you’d like to explore them. Another example is the fact that you can not only decide on the order in which you’d like to speak to characters, but also where to look between dialogue segments; other characters will carry on in a little vignette around you, as you chat with them, grabbing a beer or lighting a cigarette. 

Show, don’t tell

This is a game that rewards you for taking your time – and you might as well, to get the most bang for your buck. When you get control of the characters, there aren’t many interactables, but you’re sometimes rewarded for going out of your way. (It’s not hard to do so – the maps are pretty small.) Plus, if nothing else, you get a chance to drink in the relaxing music, and the strangely beautiful no-frills art style. Even though the textures and designs are as simple as it gets, they’re paired with sharp animations and excellent attention to lighting.

The “quests” – if you can call them that – are also indicated purely visually. Sometimes you are dropped into areas with no context – not even dialogue to tell you what to do, or where to go. As you walk around, some items will stick out in color from the environment; when you approach them, a label in the form of plain, capitalized text appears. It’s a great way to tell what/whom you can and can’t interact with. 

A short but intimate tale

At the end of this story, you can’t help but feel enriched for the experience – even if you can complete it in less time than it takes to watch a movie. While you cannot alter the plot with your choices, you can steer characters during sentimental – and silly – moments. The nicely animated, simple art style invites you to take your time and wander these human moments at your leisure, and replay them whenever you wish. Overall, the story is as long as it needs to be – but still, so short-lived that I must call it a tease.

Pros

  • Striking art style
  • Charming dialogue
  • Excellent visual storytelling

Cons

  • No meaningful choices
  • Extremely short
  • Little replay value

Verdict
Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a simple and relaxing – if extremely short-lived –  visual novel experience that is sure to make you smile.
3.5/5

Leave a Reply