Though I have always been familiar with the concept of Choose Your Own Adventure books and programs, I have never actually had the experience with one myself. I always liked the idea of them, but by the time I was 10, the PS2 was already released, and the current generation of gaming was about to be in full swing. The internet was taking over, and computer gaming/programs were just not something that ever came my way. I preferred carving my path in games like Sonic Adventure, Kingdom Hearts, and much more. Don’t get me wrong, I read, a lot, but never once did I come across a Choose Your Own Adventure Style narrative. Well, no longer do I have to say that. I have played about 15 hours of Lone Wolf on Switch, and can personally say that it’s a cool blend of RPG/Choose Your Adventure. And to top it off, it’s on a portable system that makes its dynamic genre feel oh so fitting.
Lone Wolf is highly inspired by the aforementioned Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the 80’s. The game is based off Joe Denver’s game-book series of the same name, and he too was highly involved in the development of the game. You are the Lone Wolf, a Kai Lord. A Kai Lords duty is to protect the people within his realm. Kai Lords have heightened abilities and special powers at their disposal which help them fulfill their sworn duties. After the town of Rockstarn goes unheard from for several weeks, the Lone Wolf travels there to investigate. His deepest fears are confirmed when he sees dozens of townspeople’s lifeless bodies strewn about. Danger is nearby, but he has no fear. He was born to be an answer to danger.
The game’s framework is impressive, allowing stories like this to be told both through physical text and fight scenes. Your screen is essentially a medieval book on one half, and your menu/map on the other. The book side allows you to read the full blown narrative that progresses the story, in which you will often have to make decisions to continue the story. Your actions to be made will appear on the right hand side of the screen. Your actions have meaningful outcomes, and some decisions can only be made if you have the proper skill set. Your version of Lone Wolf is determined in the beginning, when you make some permanent decisions on what skills and traits he possesses. Different magic abilities and statistical traits determine how many fights and situations will play out. If you possess the ability to summon animals to your side, you may find yourself with wolves and more as your allies. If you have the mental aptitude to manipulate things with your mind, you may not need to pick a lock, and instead force it with your psychic abilities. Either way, using these and more abilities change both the outcome of the physical narrative as well as work in your favor in the actual combat scenes. Plan very accordingly, as these decisions you make for the Lone Wolf are permanent.
I really like how the game is structured with all this in mind. Outside of these fights, you get to be a part of the story, shape your destiny, and manage Lone Wolf and his inventory. Once the narrative leads up to battle, it transitions to the fights in a cool way, showing imagery with a drawing sort of filter over it before it dissolves to pave the way for the more modern styled graphics. These fights are turn based, but interactively so. You have a limited amount of time to take action, and within that time frame your enemies can still take turns of their own. You have to balance your stamina and magic, while also maintain your health. There are three special abilities, six attacks, and four magic abilities to take advantage of. You can also have ranged weapons equipped that use consumable ammunition. Lone Wolf can equip items in both hands, so whether you take a shield and sword or two maces (and other combinations outside of that) is totally up to you. I took the attack focused approach, wielding dual maces during most of my play through. Your weapon structure changes your base attacks depending on what you are using, but outside of that most of your options will remain the same. The cool thing here is that similar to other interactive turn based titles, there are some Quick Time Events that keep you on your toes. From button presses and well timed movements, Lone Wolf keeps you involved as an active party in the fight instead of a bystander. Some movements even require stamina that you may not have, so you can either risk health to make it happen or skip it and miss the movement. The enemies you take on do not vary much from what I saw. The main two you encounter are the Giaks and the Drakkarim. The Giaks are more akin to a goblin/orc style enemy, while the Drakkarim are more humanoid elitist type soldiers. While designed solidly, the encounters with them can sometimes feel repetitive, which can be said of combat in general. Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the combat, but some slogs throughout the game can feel stale, with me doing the same pattern of attacks over and over again just because they work. Once in a while it will feel both fresh and challenging, especially when you run into a Gourgaz. These enemies are large, lizard types that serve as bosses from time to time.
Though an RPG in essence, I would consider Lone Wolf to be light on typical RPG depth as far as its features go. The game touts deep character customization, which I failed to see after the initial set up of Lone Wolf. There is not much weapon variety, and no additional armor to find as far as I could tell. You can upgrade your weapons and armor (as well as your inventory bag) up to three times, but I would not consider this much in the way of customization. There is also a feeling that you cannot really train Lone Wolf. His stats are increased at the end of every chapter, and allocated depending on your actions as opposed to letting you have a say in it. I did not mind this, but it makes you feel indifferent to exploring outside of the narrative direction. The map lets you freely move Lone Wolf from place to place, and if not going to a story specific marker you can in fact have random encounters with enemies, but gaining a bit of coin and some items is not always worth the risk when there is no experience to be gained. This makes losing to a hard fight over and over again feel like you can no longer progress, as there is no real grind to be made that can improve you. That is where the game sort of dropped the ball in the RPG sense of things, a missed opportunity that would have added to the replayability in strides in my opinion.
I really liked the art style in Lone Wolf. The map/book side of things looks really authentic. The fonts and drawings used in the book keep you really immersed while reading along, as do the symbols in the menus. It is nice to have a title actually promote the players imagination. I do not get time to read books much anymore, so this was a nice hybrid of an experience that allowed me to create my own visuals while doing its part to inspire them along the way. During the fights, the animations are sometimes a bit stiff and stale, but graphically sound. I like some of the moves Lone Wolf performs, and I really like the varied environments. I think these different scenes were a standout among the rest of the designs. The music is nothing out of the ordinary, but it isn’t bad either. Same goes for the general sound structure. The only thing negative worth pointing out is how clunky the menus can be at times. I wish I had the option of using the touchscreen here, because there can be so much on screen at times it becomes hard to navigate. It just gets awkward, especially if you go into your inventory to manage something, just to come out and have your place on screen reset.
Joe Denver’s Lone Wolf is both a fun RPG and overall unique fit for the Switch. I cannot say I have ever played anything like it, and now that I have I would not mind playing more of it. While it does not nail everything in the RPG department, I would like to see a sequel arise that does, because it is a genuinely cool game. It gives you plenty to do, at only $14.99 no less, making it an absolute steal. While not without its flaws, overall Lone Wolf is a fun experience perfect for the handheld mindset, great for both fans of the series of books as well as RPGs in general.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 7.5/10
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