The Donnerwald Experiment – First Sip Review
Recently I have covered a few games that are still in development. Games like Don’t Die, Minerva! and Monster Sanctuary which feel almost complete, barring some balancing and final touches. Then there are games like Skul and Metal Unit, that again are not yet complete and aren’t even available to the public yet. But once again, they feel virtually ready to go. The Donnerwald Experiment, on the other hand, is ready for purchase, however, it is in Early Access. The reason I mention this will become more apparent later in the review, so keep it in mind.
The Donnerwald Experiment is a fantasy RPG both developed and published by Wegenbartho Games.
The Donnerwald Experiment is focused mainly on dreams, nightmares, and creativity. Our protagonist Johanna Prokuri is an engineer known for creating giant automatons. Her creations are renowned for their ingenious designs that come to her in her dreams. But a strange event in one of her dreams steals her ability to dream as well as her creativity. Naturally, she cannot just let this be and so she seeks doctors from around the world to cure this strange affliction. But it seems sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one, because a bonk on the head sends Johanna back into her dream world.
Now, this is where things start to get more interesting. Inside the dream world, a tophat and monocle clad mole named Montgomery introduces himself as a dream demon hunter. The dapper mammal explains that Johanna has been infected with a disease known as the Mare Noctem. Not only is this disease the cause of her creativity block, but it will also turn her into a monster as well.
Her brother Will created a machine to enter dreams, known as The Donnerwald Experiment (the Donnerwald being the area the game is set in). And from there a host of characters will help journey with Johanna through a branching story covering a myriad of themes.
The Donnerwald Experiment uses a retro pixel art style. Set upon a 2D plane but with elements in the background and sometimes foreground as well. Trees, houses, and other elements are fairly well designed with a lot of detail. But the characters are really where it stands out. Each character has a unique and interesting design, furthermore, most of them have portrait art. The portrait art appears to be a hand-drawn anime style. And it matches up with the pixel-art extremely well. Sometimes the pixel-art and portrait art will even match up on pose. But not always. However, it is a nice touch when they do match up.
Regular enemies are for the most part what you’d expect. Especially in the beginning of the game, with mostly small animes, crows, rats that seem more like ferrets and a fox. But the ghost bosses have a wonderful nightmarish quality to their design that sets them apart.
Attack animations and movements are fairly fluid, but nothing particularly outstanding.
The music in The Donnerwald Experiment is quite nice. It reminds me a lot of Square Enix games. Like some more low-key Kingdom Hearts/Final Fantasy vibes at times. Each boss has its own theme, which are quite varied and fitting. Sound effects are like most games, fairly good, nothing amazing, but nothing awful or particularly stock sounding.
In particular, the spookier sort of sounds really stands out. Both in terms of the music and the sound design. With a lot of pattering of unknown feet in the darkness. Odd banging and glass shattering. Wind cutting through empty space. And of course, the creepy music building subtly and coming to the forefront during certain events.
This is really the aspect of the game that shows the incomplete nature I mentioned in the intro. Gameplay exists between 2D exploration and puzzle-solving, and turn-based RPG battles. And while each aspect is completed to a point, they both have their issues as well.
The more completed aspect is exploration. You are able to walk, run, jump, pick up items, talk to NPC’s and interact with certain objects. All pretty standard things really. While I haven’t really needed it yet and can’t really say for sure if it is missing or just later in the game. The game could use a map or mini-map. As the game is about exploration especially in the dream world (the game has an Inception-like dream layer system). a lot of the areas tend to look quite similar and I could imagine some frustration might be had in longer levels.
Combat is turn-based, each of your characters takes a turn, then each of your enemies takes one. Interestingly though the system seems to be set up so that you can choose to use all your attacks with one character. So if you have three characters on your team it’s more like three attacks that you can break up between them or not, depending on the situation. However, the game doesn’t really explain that to you and as a long-time RPG fan, it went against my instincts to even try it for a while. Not knowing this also makes the earlier fights really quite frustrating as there is an enemy that turns up a lot that only one out of three characters can hit. So I kept wasting my other characters’ turns using techniques that did nothing in that situation just to move the battle along.
Most moves have action commands, these are much like those from Paper Mario or Bug Fables. Much like those games, the action commands extend to defense as well as offense. You can either press the button at the right time to block a portion of the damage or you press a certain direction to evade the attack altogether. The only problem is the evasion direction seems to appear too late to actually help you so most of the time you have to get lucky.
The Donnerwald Experiment is incomplete, in such a weird fashion. The main things that are missing are the menus. There are a few tabs when you pause the game and most of them are works in progress. The only two you have are status and partners, and out of these only partners are really useful (and only for party setup). There are other tabs like items and crafting that have yet to be implemented which makes a lot of the item collection seem somewhat useless or frustrating. By far the most baffling missing tab though is Options. For some reason the options tab has yet to be completed which means you can’t change settings, save, or even quit while playing.
While I enjoyed my time playing The Donnerwald Experiment. The story, art, and sound are all quite solid. The gameplay feels needlessly difficult and the missing features are very noticeable and detrimental to the experience. The auto-save system is handy because there is no other way to save currently, but it also means having to replay large amounts of dialogue at times. This is also quite frustrating as there are a lot of choices the game asks you to make that you can accidentally answer while skipping previously read dialogue. The difficulty also seems high at times with no real easy way of healing between battles or even during battles with limited items.
There is still plenty planned for The Donnerwald Experiment. The current game is marked as Chapter One, for now, indicating that further chapters will be made. For RPG fans it might be worth jumping on the Early Access and helping it reach maximum potential. For anyone who is more on the fence, it’s probably best to wait for a more complete project. At the very least a working Option menu while playing the game.
In Coffee Terms
The Donnerwald Experiment is like going into a cafe, ordering a pretty standard blend. And then sipping it before it’s finished being brewed. It has all the hallmarks of the finished coffee but it’s just not done and probably shouldn’t be drunk yet. When it’s done it will probably be pretty good, but it might be best to just pay for it now and wait for your name to be called instead of jumping the counter and chugging it down.
The Donnerwald Experiment Links
The Donnerwald Experiment Review Summary
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.