Not to be confused with The Who’s Teenage Wasteland, where sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll are king, The Waste Land is named after T.S. Eliot’s greatest work. Much like the poem, it is challenging, bizarre, melancholy, and an experience that will be unique for each player.
In Waste Land, you are the young, privileged ruler of a vast kingdom. And like all young, privileged people, you are kind of an ass face. With one thoughtless act you upset the very balance of nature, unleashing nightmarish beasties throughout the land that terrorize your citizens and pitch timeshares. Fortunately for you, a mysterious Yoda/Mr Miyagi/Rooster Cogburn levitating guy is there to give your cryptic advice on how to undo your massive fuck-up. Then you’re off to explore a vast, expansive retro-tastic environment full of critters, platforms, and secrets.
The monsters are, in my humble opinion, the best part of this game. Ranging from evil tortoises with swords jutting out of their shells, to massive bats, to decayed dogs that shoot fire from their bloody maws; there are a lot of them. There are loads of interesting things to meet and promptly kill. In addition, each creature has a special, epic death animation (the aforementioned tortoise collapses and blood seeps from his shell). The bosses are creepy, larger than life, and difficult to bring down, in true Metroidvania form. You have two primary weapons, bow and sword, to dispatch foes. You’ll unlock more powerful weapons in your travels.
The stages are a mixed bag, however. Early on you’ll be running around against a primarily brown and green backdrop which is hard on the eyes. The constant stream of rain is also distracting in the beginning. But as you progress the world really opens up. Vast plains, dreary graveyards, snowy passes, and tumultuous seas are there to challenge you just as much as the enemies. Some environments are inherently stale – particularly a few indoor areas – and can’t compare to other Metroidvanias, but there’s a lot of variety to be found here.
The Waste Land’s biggest draw is also at times its biggest liability. This is a genuine retro title, from the synthetic music to the dated graphics. It looks like a direct port from the SNES. If you are expecting regenerating health, mini maps, objectives, and direction, you might want to give it a pass. You pretty much pick a direction and go with it, checking the main map every now and then to see if you’re heading towards an area you feel like exploring. Sometimes you’ll reach a zone that’s inaccessible until you unlock an item or ability. Sometimes you’ll find a ridiculous super-boss that strikes you down Old Testament-style, sending you back to a distant checkpoint. There is only one absolute truth in The Waste Land: you will backtrack. A lot. Which can make things tedious at times, especially with the music looping. It. Is. Maddening.
Not that I’ve been driven mad, mind you.
So what’s the verdict? I’m a fan. I’ve enjoyed my time with The Waste Land. Its insistence on being a hardcore retro experience can, at times, be frustrating. But the multitude of monsters and interesting locales were enough to bring me back after a frustrating death here and a long backtrack there. The Waste Land is a toast; to a bygone era, to the increasingly distant past, complete with all her flaws and glories.