Where the Water Tastes Like Wine review: Stories that grow in the retelling
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (PC/Mac) ★★★★★ Age: 12+
John Steinbeck could never have imagined his novel The Grapes of Wrath becoming a video game. But that is effectively the heart of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, a remarkable collection of vignettes set largely amid America's Great Depression.
Thankfully, it's not all miserable stuff. It blends magic realism, folk tales and ghost stories amid the threads about a drifter roaming the United States in search of everything from redemption to mere entertainment by collecting seemingly disparate stories. The twist in WTWTLW, a narrative adventure scripted by a large team of contemporary contributors, is that the eerie tales can - and must - be lightly rewritten, remixed and combined. Depending on the audience facing your character, you might need to shift a story's tone from horror to comedy to satisfy a particular demand.
Clearly, the scope for remaking the yarns is small. Sometimes it's as much about pulling out the right story at the right time from your collection than it is to be truly creative. But it's a fascinating adventure deadened only by the somewhat tedious process of actually walking from place to place in search of an icon that triggers the next story beat. With a voiceover contribution from Sting, of all people, and tiny fables that echo the likes of Cormac McCarthy as well as Steinbeck, WTWTLW comes highly recommended.
(XO/PS4/PC/Switch) ★★★ Age 7+
Game giant EA doesn't really do small games. Its last low-key effort was the cute but faintly underwhelming Unravel in 2016. Two years on, and Fe falls into the same category, featuring a charming main character - maybe a fox, maybe a marsupial - exploring a cartoonish landscape.
Certainly, the distinctive art style - all neon accents and moody shadows - establishes an interesting world. The central gimmick is that the fox can learn songs from other critters and thus communicate and seek help. Effectively, it's just another way to channel your progress Metroidvania-style. For the most part, Fe manages to be a likeable platformer featuring the usual tropes of collectibles, obstacles to be overcome and heights to be scaled. It sneakily spins a tale of ecological responsibility but never shows you anything truly new and original.
(PSVR) ★★★★ Age: 7+
Sony's VR platform needs more of these bite-sized chunks of gaming goodness. Pilgrims takes its cues from Lemmings and asks you to guide a handful of little people across a hazardous set of levels. Each one resembles a pop-up book containing multiple layers, which deftly leverages the VR dimension as you manipulate the pilgrims with a sweep of your head. It might lack much of a challenge but the soothing visuals and hypnotic gameplay make a refreshing change of pace.