Delivered by way of newspaper headlines, we are informed of the passing of Madame Take. An avid art collector, she has bequeathed her extensive collection of art to her niece, Sophia Take. Not long after, these works are stolen by Ralph Blackstone and split up. And so the story begins, tracing Miss Take’s mission to recover what is rightfully hers.
I certainly feel that Wonderstruck could have done more to establish Sophia’s character, rather than jump right in to the action. Beyond having been the victim of a crime, there is little to no given motivation for why Sophia takes the law into her own hands and starts stealing the art back. It almost feels as if it was a natural choice to go out and start stealing all the artwork back, and it wasn’t made clear if Sophia was a skilled thief in the first place.
For what the game is, that premise is quite a simple one. In my playthrough, I found that there was very little to sustain the narrative. You will stumble across characters like Harry Carver and Daisy Hobbs, carrying out their own heists, though apart from offering to help and joining Sophia, they do little in the way of helping to drive the story.
With that, the entire game feels somewhat clichéd, our hero undoing a wrong, and built on the idea that each little heist is just one step in undoing Blackstone’s treachery. By the game’s end, justice is predictably restored and the thieves just go about their lives.
It is quite evident that Wonderstruck has taken some liberties in designing the game environment, resulting in what I found to be sometimes exaggerated but certainly visually appealing graphics. I got the sense that each stage came off like a modern artwork in their own right, albeit a dynamic one that is full of moving characters. You are treated to brightly lit galleries decked out in vibrant colours, which I feel can be of appeal to people of all ages.
Perhaps in line with what we see thieves to be, it is clear from Sophia, Harry and Carver’s slim character models that they are aim to give off a feline sense, being that they stealthily move about. This carries out to their movement, which I can only describe as careful and precise. On the other hand, characters like guards are given a burly and oversized sort of look, complete with an oversized body and arms. In contrast to the thieves, they are anything but graceful. This can then result in often comedic and frantic chases that I can liken to being pursued by an ape.
I will point out that I feel that Sophia’s character had an awful resemblance to Kim Possible, and to some extent, even Carmen Sandiego. They would certainly make for appropriate inspirations for Sophia’s character, given their propensity to sneak about and, at times, resort to stealing objects.
Upon starting the game, I developed an immediate liking for the way in which the level select feature was presented. Rather than making use of a standard menu, players are met with Sophia’s art gallery, which they are free to move about in. While foremost being an aesthetically pleasing choice, I also found that this was a clever way for players to track their progress.
At first, you find yourself in the room for one art collection, with just one painting decorating the otherwise empty gallery. These paintings serve as gateways, with more appearing upon the successful completion of each stage. Given that these stages make up the chapters within the story, completing one chapter would then unlock other rooms in the gallery, allowing the player to proceed. I must commend the developers for this, as it certainly gives players a greater sense of accomplishment in progressing further and seeing the gallery fill up.
In terms of navigation, the game is solely dependent on the use of the mouse to move about. I would certainly recommend players to make use of this over mapping to the WASD/arrow keys, as I found that there was a greater degree of accuracy with pointing and clicking, and you would definitely not want to accidentally move into full view of security.
That feature wasn’t entirely perfect, however. At times, I would find myself trapped between a wall and approaching guards. Seeing only a small window of escape, I would click and hold down on a position around the wall and run, but after moving off, Sophia would occasionally run back and end up in sight of the guards. That is perhaps one of the more frustrating parts of gameplay, meaning a frantic escape, hoping your luck holds out and you evade the guards.
It is worth noting that each stage of the game is timed. Before starting a particular stage, you are shown the level’s par time, which you are encouraged to beat. With that, there is a bonus to successfully recovering all art pieces and getting to the exit within that time.
Now, onto the heists themselves. At the heart of each game’s stage is the underlying concept that you sneak your way past obstacles such as patrolling security guards, bystanders and roving cameras to recover the stolen art pieces. Naturally, these heists increase in difficulty as you moved onto higher stages. These stages take the form of galleries belonging to private collectors. Being split into several levels each, the entrance to each level serves as a sort of checkpoint. Upon being caught, the game will restore to the beginning of the particular floor, along with the game’s timer returning to what it had been before.
Being that it is a game based around thievery, it offers some options for dealing with the obstacles in your way. For example, security guards will often block your access into other parts of the gallery, or even have a patrol route that will lead them right to you. In that case, you can either whistle or even enter their field of vision (which for ease is made visible to you), so they will come to investigate while you sneak around them. This is indicated by a question mark and timer that appears above their head, giving you only moments to make your move before you are caught.
Admittedly, I take issue with the fact that this ability moves away from reality. I accept the fact that it is a basic puzzle game, but after investigating, the guards remain none the wiser and return to their previous position as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. I would have much rather preferred if the gallery took up a heightened sense of security, which would have certainly added to the challenge.
I took some joy in the fact that Wonderstruck remained true to how real-life galleries are designed. Complete with freestanding walls and podiums for statues, they serve as a sort of defence against your enemies. Along with other objects like bystanders, they can help to break up a security guard or camera’s line of sight, giving you just that greater bit of freedom to move about.
As I mentioned previously, Sophia’s art gallery act as a gateway to the game’s many stages. On one level, this enables replay for those that wish to beat their previous times. On another, once obtaining access to the other two characters, you can go back and play those levels again but with different abilities and objectives to complete.