For a small period, 80 Days was one of those mobile games that completely dominated my social feed. It was a neat rework of the Jules Verne novel with just enough fun mechanics, branching stories and plenty of style to carry the day.
Wanderlust Travel Stories, which launched on Steam earlier this year and is now available on iOS and MacOS, follows a similar path. You start with a small group of travellers who meet up and share their stories from around the world. How those stories play out? Well, that’s where you come in.
Wanderlust is officially described as a “Slow Game”, but the best way to think about it is more like an interactive slice of life visual novel. The first part plays out like a normal story with some chilled music, with sounds of the beach, birds or whatever pertains to the scene at hand weaved throughout.
You’re introduced to a small cast on a remote island, and after a brief setup they all begin swapping stories. You choose the order in which the stories are told, but more crucially, you also get to have a small amount of influence on how those tales play out.
Each of the stories are deeply personal tales from very different places. Tomek’s tale begins in a bar in Barcelona, with a lovely date who suddenly disappears after taking a Polaroid. She tells him to return to the same bar, at the same time in a year. After frustrations reach a peak at work, Tomek snaps and immediately starts packing. You’re responsible for choosing how Tomek gets to Barcelona, and whether he finds the bar at all. You’re also managing his budget, stress and fatigue levels along the way, all of which ebb and flow along the way.
You get the same influence in Martine’s story, a German woman who travels to Bankgok in search of fashion, cuisine and spirituality — although you choose the order. You’ll decide what food stalls she hits up, the people she meets along the way, how much is spent, what parts of Thailand she sees, and what lessons she ultimately takes out of the journey. Adilia’s tale is a little more grim as a war-time journalist who returns to Africa for the death of a friend, and then crosses the continent to join her daughter to be with her as she gives birth.
All the stories are written like personal vignettes, focusing on the personal connections, dealing with the small complications of life while remaining relatively authentic. There’s no grand fantastical elements or moments of absurdity: they’re just human tales about people fumbling their way through life, and they’re the kinds of stories you’d expect to hear around a backpacker hostel.
There’s enough interactive elements and extra tooltips as well to flesh out the worlds: as Adilia’s story unfolds on a river barge in the Congo, small buttons appear that offer more background into events on the area. Similarly, you’ll get more detail about the temples in Thailand, or pieces of history from Antarctica and Papua New Guinea.
The whole game runs for about 12 hours, and it’s got fairly substantial cred behind it. Jacek Brzeziński and Artur Ganszyniec are the project leads on the game, having been the project lead and lead story designer for The Witcher. In a short interview over Facebook, a member of the studio explained how Wanderlust was borne out of the idea that the feeling of travelling hadn’t been properly captured by video games.
“Brzeziński had this idea that there is no game about modern travel and he wanted to put this feeling/sensation in the game,” the studio representative said.
I’ve been playing on iOS with Bluetooth headphones, but if you wanted larger imagery the game is available on Steam. Where you play a game like this can have a large impact on the story though: it’s the sort of thing that’s perfect on a long-haul flight, or the daily commute. It’s only $4.99 on iOS, and if you enjoyed 80 Days for even the briefest of moments, you absolutely have to grab Wanderlust. It’d be a perfect fit for Apple Arcade too, if someone there is listening.