Joe Wander and the Enigmatic Adventures is a 3D puzzle platformer, and the debut game of developer Frozen Pixel. In this charming title, you control Joe, an explorer (and Indiana Jones cosplayer), as he ventures across four distinct worlds in order to retrieve coloured gems hidden throughout. Is this adventure worth exploring, though, or is it best left buried away in some ancient ruins? Let’s have a look!
The opening cutscene shows our small adventurer exploring a temple, where he discovers a huge gem. Before being able to snag it and live a life of luxury, Joe is sucked into a portal that transports him to the game's first hub world. From here, the story is all but over, as Joe journeys across four worlds — with several areas and bosses in each — retrieving gems in evert level, which grant him access to more stages. Think of how Crash Bandicoot’s warp rooms work, in that each area needs a set amount of levels to be completed before being allowed to progress to the next.
Running on the Unreal Engine, there is a good amount of polish to the game's graphical quality. I was quite taken aback by just how great Joe Wander’s environments look; everything from the flowers and long grass flattening as you run through it to the superbly rendered rain effects, the game looks great for a debut indie title! Joe himself looks a little out of place, as a weird combination of fairly low-resolution textures on a cartoon-like anatomy; it just didn’t quite fit within the stunning environments. Enemy variety is also lacking, although with the puzzles being the main focus of the adventure, it’s not too problematic.
However, the animations are rather poor, with Joe himself perhaps being the most obvious. It’s difficult to notice when his whip has attached to a moveable object; there’s no visual or audio cue to let players know they’re hooked onto a block that can be dragged, which led to many instances of running away from something I intended to move. This went hand in hand with the fiddly controls, causing some frustration.
The music isn’t as impressive as the graphics; in fact, it’s downright dull and as generic as it comes. The ambient sounds of a forest, for example — with birds chirping and frogs croaking — sounded fine, but I just wish there was more to the audio in general. Perhaps my biggest gripe was no victory fanfare when completing a level. You just get to the exit and boom. You’re back at the hub. Where’s my musical serotonin?
The gameplay reminded me a little of games such as Sackboy: A Big Adventure and (as mentioned earlier) even the earlier Crash Bandicoot titles, although this is much more puzzle-focused than the latter. The game allows players to move around in a 3D environment, with a static camera that I often felt was a little too zoomed in at times. It does pull away from Joe during the jumping sections and when you need to see the wider area for a puzzle, but I did find myself accidentally running into an enemy because I was unable to see more than a few meters in front of me.
As Joe, you’ll run, jump, and use your whip to solve puzzles, navigate platforming sections, and defeat enemies. None of the enemies are difficult to kill, with most requiring a hit from Joe’s whip before being jumped on, but some of the boss encounters were really fun. These are more like puzzles with added danger than a typical enemy encounter, and it was enjoyable to have a game that was more focused on its brain-teasers rather than the combat.
Whilst the way Joe controls isn’t outright broken, it can feel a little cumbersome to manoeuvre him at times. In particular, the momentum when swinging across gaps with your whip feels off, and not being able to jump out of the swing took me a while to remember (damn muscle memory!), as well as the sudden complete stops that will cause you to have to build up the swing again. Dying more than once due to a swing that halted in its momentum just as I was leaping to the next safe platform was definitely irritating.
The opening few levels were quick and easy, offering various puzzles and platforming sections that did a good job of introducing the games' mechanics. I initially assumed it would all be simple jumping and block-moving puzzles and I’d have this game finished within a few hours. Oh, was I wrong! Some of these sections — especially in later levels — left me stumped. Solving a particular fiendish puzzle, however, does make you feel like you’re ready to sign up for whatever quiz show is on daytime television these days. Although there are no in-game rewards other than progressing to the next level, isn’t this feeling enough of a reward in itself?
Joe Wander and the Enigmatic Adventures feels like a game that many will pass over due to its relatively unassuming aesthetic. However, those looking for a fun, if occasionally uninspired, puzzle platformer could do much worse than wandering around with Joe. Those of you with children may find it keeps them entertained, but don’t be surprised when you’re just as stuck as they are with some of the puzzles!
Joe Wander and the Enigmatic Adventures (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Joe Wander and the Enigmatic Adventures features gorgeous environments and some tricky, yet enjoyable, puzzles. Camera and movement issues aside, this is a fun adventure that puzzle fans will get a kick out of.