Blue Isle Studios’ released a game 3 years ago that attempted to capture the magic of the nautral world around us with a burning anticipation to look around every corner.
Valley came to this Switch this past March after being released back in 2016 for PC, Xbox, and Playstation. I didn’t even know about this game until watching the launch trailer for Switch which pushed the idea of becoming an adventurer and responding to our instinctual calling to run through nature. But with the concept that you can control life and death in the process. The trailer immediately intrigued me with ideas of possible chain reactions that could come from giving and taking life around the ecosystem of the Valley. Here’s what my experience with the game on Switch.
We start off as a kayaked-wrecked archeologist who stumbles into the Valley by accident. Which is very lucky for him considering that he was looking for this place on his quest to find the Life Seed, a mythical source of power that
I was already looking for ways to interact with the cave once I started the game and it wasn’t until I got to the suit that I felt that the game had really began. I stepped outside into light and was greeted by little glowing jello-like creatures called Daemons and orbs of light scattered by a tree.
As you continue walking, you’ll find a army truck left carrying some very important cargo that never made it to its destination. And you find out that this valley was actually an army base where the government was doing research during World War II but has now been abandoned for decades.
And then I reach the LEAF suit which seems to have fallen out of the truck. LEAF standing for Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality which does a little more than just that. You can also cling onto certain grappling hooks, jump high into the air, and revive yourself through a feature called Quantum Death. It also comes with a glove called the God Hand. Which is a pretty spot on name for the device since it lets you drain the life energy of creatures and plant life around you. Needless to say, these are going necessary to navigate the whole game.
Learning about the LEAF suit and how it came to this valley immediately hooked me. I had a sense of adventure and mystery perfectly mingled. You journey though the game as an archeologist who has spent his life hearing about a mysterious Valley where he can find the mythical Life Seed of legend. And after a kayaking accident that leaves in a cave, you find yourself in the Valley that was considered by others to be just a story. But there’s much more than meets this eye in this breathtaking wilderness.
You soon find recordings laying throughout the game that were made by a researcher named Virginia. She’s clearly the moral compass that is driven by her intellect and curiosity instead of the potential for using the mysterious energy of the Valley for weapons.
Most of the story is told through these recordings with additional ones coming from the scientist who built the LEAF suit himself. Those recordings, however, are unlocked naturally as you progress through the game and come from the suit itself.
As you begin your journey, the game makes you experience a death triggered by the story itself. You immediately come back to life but a meter indicating the health of the Valley has gone down. The Valley literally gives you its life to revive you. Meaning that if you don’t revive trees and the nature around you, there’s a chance that the Valley will die completely and cause you to start at the beginning of the level.
I loved this presentation since it answered my question of “But how does power affect my own life? Why can’t I just siphon off all the energy in the Valley?” My immediate reaction for taking away life was guilt. And my reaction was to try as hard as possible to not die and to revive as many dead trees as I could find to prevent killing the valley and making sure I don’t go along with it.
By the end of the game, you complete the quest to find the Life Seed and take it with you to shut down the Astra Facility which is draining the life of the Valley. And since the previous sabotage attempt failed, it’s up to you to stop it. There are several clues and insights along the way that reveal how humans were affecting the native creatures and energy balance of the valley told through notes that you see lying around.
It’s a solid premise and definitely a mystery that I wanted to unfold since you never encounter another human in the game which begs the question of “why the valley is abandoned?”
My biggest question, and one that I still haven’t really found an answer for, is what happened to the Valley after the first sabotage attempt? Did the government just leave? Did everyone die? Are the enemies that attack you just corrupted Daemons? Where are the Wendigos that were hinted at throughout the game? All these questions lead me into my main issue with the game. It feels just slightly unfinished.
You mostly collect orbs or drain nature to fuel your suit and calm down swarms of glowing flies that attack you meaning that the game mostly consists of jumping around to reach high places to cover gaps while occasionally shooting enemies. And water automatically kills you until you obtain an upgrade that lets you run across it for a limited period of time. But the limitation being that you have to have a running start or else you perish.
The area and level construction are just a bit above average and don’t really change too much which means that there isn’t a lot of memorable locations throughout. I wish there were more unique areas of puzzles other than just getting to the other side. What bugs me in particular are the mechanics which don’t always feel as clean or responsive as they could be. In game with so much jumping and running I felt like I was lacking in the control necessary to get to where I needed to go. The L.E.A.F. suit does provide a bit of reduced gravity which aids you as you fall, but it’s hard to be certain if you’re on a flat surface all of the time since there’s a lot of rocks and logs that have curves on their surface. This also applied to the majority of indoor areas which were too dark and required me to turn up the screen brightness on multiple occasions.
I really had the expectations that I would be exploring the ruins of the lost civilization and finding out about the hidden world of the Daemons. But the story quickly becomes about Virginia and her quest to save the Valley. While this isn’t a bad direction, I felt like the context and background of the supernatural elements could have used more time so that I could care about what happened to these cute creatures.
I was initially disappointed because of the linear structure that broke the illusion that I got from the trailer. I was expecting more of an open world which I got a taste of in the early part of the game where I had to unlock three ancient pedestals and didn’t have to do them in any order. It was fun to progress while exploring the world of Valley but these chances were far and few between which broke my expectations. If there were more areas like this I would have definitely felt less tense while playing and appreciated the world more because of the presence of variety.
The transitions were also offputting since you would go through a doorway or make a turn and suddenly the game would fade into a loading screen. And by itself it wouldn’t be a problem but these loading screens could last up to a minute which is just a time suck and really slows down the momentum of the game.
There some great features that did make the world feel lived in such as the recordings and notes which show what life around here was like. Soldiers talk about being isolated here and the strange observations they made as they mined it for the strange resources.
These became less endearing and interesting as I progressed through the game and just wanted to get through the level. That was because the game quickly takes on a linear path where you reach the end and get carried into the next section. If you want to revisit a previous area, you have to start it all the way from the beginning which is annoying for people just looking to explore or find the collectibles.
What I did enjoy as I reached high places and could actually see the wilderness was the beautiful scenery and music that controlled my emotions almost perfectly. It was a pleasure to listen to the sounds and music of areas and then chilling to hear certain sounds when you entered an indoor area with enemies hidden behind the corner.
It feels like there is just one missing step each plot point or feature of an area that kept me going because I had the idea that there would be answers ahead but it didn’t ever go much deeper than exposition.
The consists of acorns and medallions which start off a nice bonus that you get from being observant to a hassle that sidetracks the story and sense of progress.
Acorns can be used to open certain doors to get upgrades or just progress to the next area and appear frequently when you revive a tree.
Medallions are necessary to open two doors in a particular structure later in the game and get a few upgrades. They can be found in trunks around the wilderness or in buildings.
But what bothers me the most about them is their placement. There are iconic sections of the game which push the player to gain as much momentum as possible in order to jump over a gap and then carry that momentum into the next jump. And the medallions? Located off in the corner across some water and only reachable with some careful platforming.
Digesting the Soup
Valley is a game with some stunning visuals and sounds that does so much right but just can’t seem to follow through on how it wants to use its strengths.
Its momentum based jump and life energy manipulation have great potential for an open world game in a natural setting. The lore and mystery of the Valley’s history have strong foundations for adventure and discovery with a developing world. But it feels like Valley decides to play it safe by trying to both and not really fulfilling either one of them.
While it presents some fascinating concepts such as using the Life Seed as a clean atomic bond, there aren’t a lot of personal stakes since the danger doesn’t become imminent until the player obtains the Life Seed in the final act. And having the Life Seed in your hand does nothing! You would think that it would enhance or fuel your suit but it’s just a rock you carry around with not extra effect.
But for a $20 game, I would say it’s worth a ride. And if you’re looking to save even more, the game is currently on sale on the eShop for 12.99 and is a curious adventure. I would love to what this game would look like with just a bit more development.
Awesome music and atmosphere.
Great existential ideas
Strong sense of discovery
Load time seems long.
VERDICT: There were fun times in this game even if they didn’t turn out to be the most satisfying. I would not recommend approaching this game as a collector because the momentum will be lost and the story will feel spread too thing are you dedicate time to getting to hard to reach areas. Just enjoy the direction of the story and progress as quickly as you can with occasional looks at the scenery.
A review code for Valley was provided by Blue Isle Studios for the purpose of this review.