American civilization and history have long gone hand-in-hand with storytelling. Throughout the tall tales which frontiersman passed on in their travels, to the music and hymns which have spread from state to say, America was shaped as much by the stories passed on through generations as much as it has by the people that have traveled across it, which is where the heart of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine defeats.
Of course, the game’s title ties quite deeply into a tune which’s all about the anonymous and looking for “the promised land,” which is “Goin’ Up the Country” by Canned Heat:
I’m going up the country, babe, don’t one want go?
I’m going to a place in which I’ve never been before.
I’m going, I’m going where the water tastes like wine.
We could jump in the water, stay drunk all of the time.
Coming from developers Dimbulb Games along with Serenity Forge, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is as much an adventure game as it is a experience that permeates deep into the art of storytelling, and even more specifically the American myths and folklore which have defined the country since its modest beginnings.
From stories of desperation and heartbreak, to outlandish stories set in the backwaters and rolling mountains of America, every yarn in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is memorable and fantastical at exactly the identical time. Whether you take these as truth or fiction is ultimately up for debate, however, the stories which Where the Water Tastes Like Wine informs are not as fascinating as your own character searches for the “promised property,” and everything you find along the way will certainly surprise you in unexpected ways.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a indie adventure game which has players traveling across the streets and highways from the United States seeking out the stories of strangers that you meet on the way. As a nameless, skinny wanderer with nothing more than a sofa tied to a stick, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is the definition of the journey being the main portion of the adventure, as opposed to the destination, as you experience across 16 or so characters that each have their own motives for being on the street, as you listen to their tales and pass them to other people.
As you collect the stories of other travelers, you hold on to these as a collection of cards which you can use to share the stories with the characters that you encounter. As you hear their own stories, the new characters that you meet will ask to listen to specific types of stories — like “thrilling” stories, “sad” stories, etc. — and after fulfilling their requests for a certain number of times, you will then incorporate their own narrative to your collection.
This is by-and-large the main mechanic of the game, but what actually makes collecting and sharing your own stories in the road compelling is the fact that the stories and characters you experience often develop more than once during the game, and as you journey round the nation they develop and change to fantastic proportions.
Like most of the best folk stories and tall stories, the stories you might encounter at the beginning of the game could finally develop into urban legends and tall tales of their own as they’ve (presumably) been picked up and shared with other travellers. Likewise, a character you might meet in the beginning of your travel — state a little boy who ran away from your home, or even a down-on-his-luck grifter on the train paths — may wind up coming back into your stories later on in the game in a vastly different state. Seeing how far they’t encounter (or just how far they’ve dropped) is one of the game’s many fascinating elements, as these stories ebb and flow and can change drastically because the game goes on.
The storytelling of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is continually its most impressive component, and given that there are several dozen stories you will discover through the experience, there’s pretty much always something new to find or find on your journeys across America.
Gameplay-wise though, I will say that the “exchanging stories” segments can sometimes feel like a crapshoot when it comes to accurately guessing the right type of narrative a character might want to hear. Some of the story categories such as “Sadness” or “Love” are simple enough to decipher, but many others are a bit more obscure (like “The Future”), and therefore I sometimes found it frustrating when a narrative which I believed was interpreted as a “hopeful” narrative for me personally was instead received by one of the figures as being too gloomy or too horrific to enjoy, losing valuable chances to collect their own story.
There is an end purpose in trying to collect each the travelers’ stories as a way to repay a debt owed to the mysterious being known as “The Wolf” (who is voiced by legendary artist and musician Sting), as the player ends up making a bargain with the devil and losing their hands in a fate-filled game of cards against him in the opening sections. But honestly, you might go into Where the Water Tastes Like Wine without having this aim in mind and enjoy the experience on its own. Much like a road trip or journeys without any sort of destination, a part of the fun of traveling through the game’s rendition of how America was following where the wind (or my curiosity) took me, and enjoying its most stories along the way.
The game itself takes place on a large 3D map of America which you guide your character along in a variety of means. The majority of this time will be spent simply walking from town-to-town because you gather stories, cash, and also the occasional bruise or two weeks, but while the game goes on and you hit all the significant cities and metropolises (for example, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, etc.), you can take on additional activities like exploring the cities, finding job to earn money, buy items, and more.
Naturally, your travel options also extend as you explore all the country, since you can either purchase a train ticket (or risk hopping a ride on the train that can result in a beatdown from train security brokers), or hitchhike your way onto the road from passing nearby automobiles to find other characters that are working their way throughout the countries.
By-and-large you’ll be doing a lot of traveling in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine, which might make it an acquired taste for some players. There isn’t a lot of evolution or change in the basic routine of traveling out of state-to-state to find the remaining characters, and so the repetitive gameplay structure might leave some feeling it to be a bit tedious. As all the characters you experience has multiple parts for their stories, you’ll need to monitor them down a couple of times to get the bigger picture, which will cause over a few cross-country trips to hunt down that previous section of a character’s narrative you might be missing in your collection.
That being said, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine makes finding each personality value the adventure, because their distinctive personalities and traits have been brought to life via exceptional writing and fashion. As all the characters have been written by individual authors (ranging from game journalists, to game designers, along with numerous others), each character has a distinct personality and tone which ranges from tragic characters, into this incredibly amusing, as well as the ones that it is possible to’t help but believe for in their plights around America.
From a down-on-his fortune train conductor into a boy seeking to venture out of his own a la Huckleberry Finn, each character that you encounter brings their own distinctive flair for their recollections of traveling around America.
Although the game largely relies upon its writing and performances to take it through, the art and audio design of this game also carries home the impressions and influence of its Depression-era America setting. While the map that has players traveling across the nation is a bit more of a mixed bag visually, both the cutscenes and dialogue interactions between the player and characters have been beautifully realized with lush illustrations and imagery and provide a stronger impact.
If there’s one element to single out of the game though it’s in the game’s soundtrack by composer Ryan Ike that wonderfully captures a blend of music as diverse as the stories and characters which the game introduces. Scored into the looks of longing harmonicas, rough hewn guitar strings, twinking banjos, and much more, the soundtrack of all Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is currently a contender for one of the favorites of this year. There were moments as I traveled that I sometimes stopped to take in the scenery place to the game’s music, letting its country blues-infused sounds wash over me it truly is that great.
As a game devoted to the art of storytelling itself, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine shines with its powerful writing, exceptional voice-acting, along with its visual and aural elements that bring players back into the time of tall tales and endless stretches of road to research. While its gameplay construction might be a bit loose for several players, the characters and stories that Where the Water Tastes Like Wine introduces make the journey into the promised land that far more straightforward, even if there is no telling what is in the horizon.