Where the Water Tastes Like Wine Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, PC, Apple Mac and Linux
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine first caught my eye back in early 2018, when it was released on PC and mobile. What stood out to me, at the time, was the hand-drawn scenes with obvious watercolor-esque influence and stylisation. These scenes showcase a mythological Americana, in which stories from the open road are like a currency. Ranging from the Great Depression-era downtrodden to the mystical, macabre occurrences you face, you will have a lot on your plate in this journey across the continental United States. With nothing but a cap on your skull and pack across your shoulder, the atrophied protagonist must see what the country has in store for him or face dire consequences.
After a game of cards doesn’t go your way, a wily wolf forces you into servitude. In order to pay off your debts, you must travel across the country, gathering stories, in order to intrigue the main cast of characters you will meet so that you can slowly get a deeper glimpse into their own tales of triumph and hardship. As you wander across the map, you will experience a diverse set of stories that range from the most basic, understandable experiences of hard-working folk to scenes no being should witness coming from inconspicuous locations like a random farm or roadway in the rural areas of the country.
Even though the setup for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is immensely enticing, these set pieces never really amount to anything of serious note. Each little blurb and minor detail you pick up from the scattered blips on the map offers you just a glimpse of what could actually be a set of detailed, interesting tales. In reality, you are simply gathering these as coupons to redeem with the disparate cast of campers that you meet up with, in hopes that after selecting the proper set of stories, you will gain enough trust to have them spin a yarn about their personal lives. After repeating this process with each character, you will eventually get to some worthwhile storytelling, but that will only be after fighting through a ton of monotony.
Once you find a special location housing this main cast, you will need to prepare accordingly. There are several categories of storytelling themes you can collect along the way and having plenty to offer these characters is necessary to progress through the story. Each tale acquired can only be utilized one time with each person, so after spending through what you have, you will need to, for lack of a better word, grind to gather up enough to get to the next friendship stage with the character.
This is a tedious workload for several reasons. First of all, your character moves so unsettlingly slow that you will find yourself so frustrated that you focus on gathering as many funds as possible to help you bounce around the country via train or bus. A whistling mini game in which you simply hold down a button, while matching up the prompts to your A-B-X-Y buttons, will cause you the slightest of speed boosts, but it’s nothing really worth taking the time to do.
On top of that, the hunger and monetary systems seem completely out of place. You are a skeleton, so why do you need to eat in the first place? Also, getting money is done through some random story beats, as well as when entering large cities where you can attempt to gather some cash. This money flies out of your pocket with the simplest purchases, and just never feels like a mechanic that matches what the rest of the game is going for.
Finally, if only the tiny tales you collect were more noteworthy it wouldn’t feel like such a chore to complete them. Sometimes you will find an interesting paranormal encounter or heinous crime scene, but even so, these consist of a few sentences before you move on to gather the next one. The pace at which you can gather them, and the weight they hold when used up in a single use with the main cast, makes them feel completely useless most of the time. It was extremely disappointing to have this be how the storytelling mechanic was utilized, even if the payoff can be grand eventually.
What caught my attention a couple years ago is what held true and is still worth experiencing. The artistic style and design used throughout is impeccable. From the grimy, Depression-era theme, to the mix of macabre and psychedelic, combine for one of the more unique aesthetics I have had the pleasure of experiencing. The folk music soundtrack displays some of what made the period great as well, with twangs and country influence that matches the country road mentality of the title. Whether you like the way in which you get to the meat and potatoes of the storytelling, at least there is stylish canvases and soothing background music to get you there.
All in all, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine both met my expectations in terms of the style and visuals, but unfortunately, was quite a letdown in the storytelling department. Let me be clear, the stories told here are both interesting and unique; they will most definitely get your attention. However, that’s all they do, as they quickly move on from what could have been high levels of mythology building. A few sentences to get your palette wet before having you quickly collect another, just to passingly spend it towards unlocking more stories isn’t what I wanted or expected. Even if there is something here worth experiencing, I can’t help but feel like the metaphorical journey you have to take didn’t match up with the actual one you were given.