My deepest gaming regret is that I never could quite get into puzzle games. I’ve often found it a bit embarrassing that for a game to keep my attention in the long term, it needs to have a rate of at least 10 explosions per hour (or EPH if you’re so inclined). That’s why I’m delighted to say I really quite enjoyed Whalien: Unexpected Guests. There are practically no explosions to be found in this charming whale-based, physics-based puzzle-platformer, but what is there makes it worth a look for fans of either puzzle games or whale puns.
The world is charming from the outset. Humanity has been loaded into a giant metallic whale run by an AI called Fin (it’s a bit like an episode of Doctor Who). Except they’ve all left for greener pastures – leaving our hero, Ernest the Whale Mechanic, alone to look after the ship which has been infested with inky squids that look like they were just rejected from auditions for Splatoon 3. Using the power of physics and his push and pull gloves, Ernest has to free Fin from the infestation of inky squid things. The colour palette is bright and interesting throughout, and the brilliant funky music provides a great backdrop to the overall pleasant and jaunty vibe the game gives off. It’s not dissimilar to games like Octodad in art style, which it could also be compared to in its use of a physics system where basically everything can be messed with.
That is the main draw of the experience – the physics. The puzzle elements of the game revolve around the use of your ability to push and pull pretty much any object in the game world. This had me very excited, as I am a firm believer in the universal gaming principle that throwing stuff around is always fun. While there are indeed many instances of interesting and fun gameplay scenarios in Whalien, it must be said that a large portion of the entertainment I got from the game was in entering a room and holding down my push button until every book, plate and can was strewn across the room like the before pictures on an episode of DIY: SOS. Needless to say, this mechanic works flawlessly across the whole game. On top of that, there are fun ideas throughout the game that interact with this mechanic outside of the main puzzles – for example, vending machines you can push buttons on, fish you can pull out of ponds to win a fishing contest, etc..
If nothing else, I can say I spent my weekend throwing squid babies around a mechanical whale and really confuse my friends
The puzzles themselves are also worth a mention. I will state once again that I’m a certified puzzle game amateur, and I found the experience never had me stumped to the point of frustration. The only time I remember doing the good old ‘wandering around aimlessly looking for buttons to press until something works’ was in the very final level, and that was until I realised I missed a very obvious entire portion of the map where the solution lay. That is to say that if you’re anything like me and you’re looking for a fun jaunt through a mechanical whale that lets you throw plates at a squid, check this game out. If you’re expecting deep and mind-bending puzzle mechanics, you might be left wanting more.
But for what it is, Whalien is rather good fun. I was worried that the core mechanic wouldn’t be expanded on enough to keep it interesting across the whole runtime, but I didn’t find this to be the case. The game isn’t the longest affair. If you rush the main story you’ll be done in just over an hour, although there are a myriad of hidden sticker collectibles littered around the map which were often challenging and fun to obtain that can give completionists a few more hours of gameplay, I’m sure. Overall I’d like to thank the creators of Whalien for an entertaining experience that I found a refreshing break from my usual explosion-fests. If nothing else, I can say I spent my weekend throwing squid babies around a mechanical whale and really confuse my friends, which for me is worth the price of admission.
A review key for this game was provided by the developers in exchange for an honest review.