Winds & Leaves can be overly simple, but its solemn woodland walking hits the mark. More in our Winds & Leaves review.
Note: At the time of publication, Winds & Leaves has some serious bugs on PS5 that hamper gameplay and outright prevented us from seeing the final cutscene. As such, we’ve decided to keep this to a review-in-progress without a score until a fix has been confirmed. The developer says another patch will arrive this week but see our Bug Report section below for more details.
There is a very good chance Winds & Leaves doesn’t speak to you. Trebuchet’s latest is about as docile as gaming gets; a 4 – 5 hour sleepy trek through the woods, planting trees to repopulate the now-barren world with vegetation. There’s very little in the way of challenge to it, and its aspirations of being therapeutic will no doubt condemn it to mundanity for some.
If all that sounds quite appealing to you, though, Winds & Leaves is actually quite lovely. It’s just a little on the simple side.
Remember that old joke about geography classes really just being an excuse to color pictures in? Well, this is basically that joke in videogame form – you’re a weird little farmer-monster-thing with the ability to grow trees by digging out holes, planting fruit-like seeds and then speeding up time to watch them flourish. Gather the fruits of your labor from these fresh branches and then use them to plant yet more trees and reshape the dusty orange wasteland that stretches out in front of you. Walk too far from a farmed area for too long and your health meter — a strange sort of wooden beer stein — will run out, pulling you back into your forest.
It’s a simple concept with a simple eco-friendly message, one that’s notably similar to games like Flower or VR’s own Fuji. Somewhat fleshing out the foundation is the need to match the right fruit to the right soil types. When you dig a hole, three symbols need to be matched in order for something to grow from it. You can solve this by either mixing symbols from two or three other fruits, or finding new ones that might meet your needs at certain points on the map. Once the new tree type grows, its fruit will match the new symbol combo, removing the need for constant double-dipping.
And, well, that’s really kind of it. Winds & Leaves will live and die by exactly how much satisfaction you get from blotting out the last patches of desert and watching your garden grow. And that can be a rewarding treat; watching branches shakily spring to life over the course of a time-lapse, grass bleeding out in front of you as clouds race overhead is definitely the desired kind of meditative, and walking back through sections of the game you’ve already reforested makes you long for the coolness of the shade it provides.
It helps that the game is easy on the eyes, if rarely truly striking. That said, technical limitations hold it back; even playing on a PS5 there’s heavy pop-in when walking through a forested area, with tree branches jumping in and out of view with every step you take, while the ground is constantly redistributing grassy patches depending on where you stand. While not fatal, it’s definitely a shame the world doesn’t have more consistency.
Winds & Leaves is very literally about reaping what you sow, then. Trebuchet wants the cycle of dig, sow, grow to be a balm, and it definitely succeeds, even if it feels like there’s something missing. It’s hard to put your finger on it; perhaps it’s that the process of growing trees never really changes all that dramatically, or that the game’s wordless, isolated world still carries a certain emptiness even after you’ve finished refilling an area. Whatever the cause, it boils down to a sense of over simplicity. You will get some other powers like the ability to glide (or, in VR terms, dash) first from perch to perch and then between trees themselves, and specific weather conditions require you to double up on tree types to withstand harsher climates, but there’s ultimately very little to really push you.
In fact, most of the game’s challenge comes from wrestling with its clunkier aspects. Your inventory, for example, can only hold six seeds at a time. If you get stuck on a path without the necessary ingredient, you’ll have to do a lot of backtracking to find a fruit that fits your needs, potentially all the way back to the game’s central garden area. Even then actually finding trees bearing fruit can be difficult even if you speed up time.
Locomotion in Winds & Leaves, meanwhile, is actually pretty cohesive – your character is on stilts and you have to move your controllers to walk forwards. A simple, gentle waggle will do, and it fits very well with the game’s pacing, but you hold the same Move buttons to both walk and, when in the vicinity of a tree, climb. It’s easy for the game to get mixed between the two, and also deciding if you want to grab and item out of your inventory or fruit from a branch or tree. The cave painting-style hints, meanwhile, don’t always do the best job of guiding you, and there was more than one occasion that I found myself stuck.
Winds & Leaves Review – Final Impressions
Winds & Leaves is an untroubling little VR game, both in the restorative nature of its farming mechanics and, ultimately, how simple and inoffensive it is. Soothing and wholesome, it’s a game about losing yourself in the satisfaction of honest work and clean living. But, even with the game’s angle of relaxation considered, it’s ultimately just a little too straightforward for its own good and some clunky elements end up holding it back. Winds & Leaves is a breezy remedy for a VR’s otherwise action-packed summer, but it’s only a temporary retreat.
However, with some crippling bugs running on PS5 at launch, we’re not scoring the game just yet. We’ll update this review once we’ve confirmed Trebuchet has fixed these issues.