Stories have been passed down from the very beginning of time – the only way that we know what happened to those that came before us.
Each one of us is made up of stories. Stories about our parents, grandparents, about our days at work or the amazing lunch we had yesterday. Whether its something simple or complicated, stories make up our lives. Indie adventure game Where the Water Tastes Like Wine developed by Dim Bulb Games and Serenity Forge encourages the player to cherish people’s stories and hold on to them in order to share them with other strangers down the line.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a bit of a challenge to review because it plays unlike any game I’ve encountered before. There isn’t a real main goal and there’s no complicated controls or intricate puzzles. You’re simply a traveller, making his way across the United States collecting stories from strangers.
The story starts when a mysterious wolf gives you the quest to find a place “where the water tastes like wine.” Surprise, surprise. The main way to travel is by walking, but you can also catch a train or hitchhike with someone. Movement is slow – especially when you’re walking – but there’s a fun mechanic where if you whistle, you’ll move ever so slightly faster.
Curiously enough, each of the stories that you collect is separated into categories, illustrated by tarot cards with names such as “death” or “love.” This makes them easily accessible when, at the end of the day, you sit down with a stranger and tell them some of the stories that you’ve heard previously. A young boy may ask for a funny story, and you’ll have to do your best to tell one using only the stories you heard earlier that day. If you manage to tell the boy a story he likes, he’ll tell you a little bit about himself. If you tell the boy three stories that he likes (he’ll request different types each time) then he’ll tell you his story. If you tell him the right stories and run into him further down the line, you’ll learn even more about him each time. The more stories that you collect and tell, the more money and stamina you’ll earn to use on your adventure.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine has some survival mechanics, but there’s never any real consequences to dying. You’ll simply reset at a random point on the map. This makes it hard to stay motivated to keep up with your personal stats. Most of the time you’ll find yourself much more focused on picking up and listening carefully to each of the unique stories that you’ll drop dead before you realise you’ve let your stats get much too low. In fact, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine could probably get rid of this aspect altogether and it’d be no worse off for it.
Apart from the blocky bird’s eye view of the map when you’re walking around, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine looks great. The characters seem to have jumped right out of a children’s storybook and you’ll feel engrossed in the adventure the more that you play. Unfortunately, I found myself more attracted to the short tales from those you encounter on the road than those of the strangers that you’ll sit down and have longer conversations with at the end of each day. Of course, the more that you encounter the same folks, the more of their story you’ll unfold, so you’re encouraged to find them again. But I grew tired of listening to the same weary travellers and ashamedly skipped through some dialogue I found to be less entrancing than previous tales.
One of the more unique elements of the game is being able to watch stories you’ve previously told warp and change into something entirely different. You may tell the story of the two women who robbed a bank and got away with it, but the next time you hear of the story it will have changed into something entirely different. It’s like playing a game of Chinese whispers with your friends and starting out with the sentence, “I love hippos” and ending up with “Woe is nipples.” Of course, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine does this in a much more sophisticated way and it’s enjoyable to see where the stories end up as you travel around.
It should be said that Where the Water Tastes Like Wine isn’t an easy game. It may sound like you’ll simply be collecting stories and retelling them, but there is a bit of strategy to it. The game’s strength lies in the stories themselves and being able to watch them change as they travel like you do, across the United States. But unfortunately, its lack of a real proper structure weighs it down quite a bit and may put some players off.
With a lovely art style and an entirely intriguing concept, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is unlike anything you’ll have played before. Its uniqueness makes it worthwhile, but some slow-moving elements, inconsequential mechanics and a few lacklustre stories mean it doesn’t stand out quite as much as it should.