A Highland Song Review
Some games faithfully depict specific cultures. Venba successfully narrates a captivating story about Indian immigrants, while Horace is infused with British humor. A Highland Song aims to capture and honor a facet of Scotland by exploring its iconic region but will this homage to the Highlands deliver an engaging cultural narrative?
You play as Moria, a young girl who lives in a quaint house that borders on the Scottish Highlands. After receiving a letter from your Uncle Hamish, you decide to trek the mountainous region in order to meet him at a lighthouse. Although your objective gives purpose to your journey, the real story lies in the adventure. As you wander the environment, you’ll encounter characters and items that offer snippets of life. These aspects encourage you to lose yourself in the world and search every nook and cranny. While conversations and annotated documents only give tidbits of information, they add another layer to the adventure and create memorable moments.
A Tall Tale
Exploration lies at the core of A Highland Song, offering you the chance to navigate the varied terrain of Scotland. You must climb intimidating cliffs and descend down dangerous slopes to progress further into the wild. Due to your stamina, you are unable to climb huge vertical drops which means you must survey the area for places of rest or different routes. It’s truly rewarding when you work out the optimum path to your destination. This includes a clever use of perspective to allow you to interact with different planes in the environment. Although a hill may clearly be in the background, at times you can access this to progress down a different route. This can take a little getting used to and there are points when you can’t take a certain path but on the whole, it’s a great way to maintain a 2D perspective and allow the player to delve deeper into the world.
Upon reaching the summit of the luscious landscape, you can then look over the area to find your next destination. Many of the items you collect on your way include sketches of parts of the environment. This then allows you to work out where to go and select an area to venture to. Moving through planes is fantastic as it feels as if you are progressing deeper into a lovingly crafted storybook. The segment prior shifts and you will edge closer to your main objective, which helps to keep your primary goal as the main focus.
Time To Go
With a clear day and night cycle, you must survive while on your expedition. Your health will deplete with each fall which results in the need to recover. Dotted throughout are areas for you to spend the night or get out of the rain. Resting or sleeping will help you recuperate but this depends on the location. If you find an empty shack then you can expect a good night’s sleep, whereas huddling under the lip of a cliff will only reclaim a small amount of energy.
The survival aspects of the game serve to add to the adventure and not be a burden. You can lose all of your health and you simply wake up in a location close to your demise. While I like the fact that Inkle Studios wants to keep you in the tale, it does raise the question about the need for a health bar. I understand that it adds to the idea of being lost in the Highlands but the lack of impact from its depletion makes it feel unnecessary. I would have liked to have seen the developers double down on the design decision, ending the story when you run out of health or possibly even removing it.
As you sprint across the vast open meadows, you will encounter rhythm-based musical segments. A deer signals these sections and with the press of the sprint button, you will initiate it. What follows is wonderful folk music that perfectly captures and celebrates Scotland. Hopping across broken bridges and jumping upon stones buried in the ground is an absolute joy. Although this contrasts with other aspects of the game, it works incredibly well and adds even more personality to the game.
Due to the number of routes to your objective and the time mechanic, there’s plenty of incentive to replay the game. Your goal is to reach the lighthouse before the Beltane tide. If you miss this, you keep all of your notes and shortcuts for your future runs. This makes subsequent treks feel different as you will encounter new areas and climb to new peaks.
There’s a lovely storybook feel about the visuals. Moira stands out from the backdrops with her long, flowing brown hair and bright yellow jacket. This makes her easily visible even when the camera pulls out to amplify the beautiful vista. Animations are a little limited and you’ll see Moira take a tumble in exactly the same way despite the difference in location and height.
A Highland Song is wonderful. The atmosphere that permeates the game is intoxicating and will make you want to search every inch of the environment. There is a real incentive to replay the game due to the many routes and the timed objective. Although the survival aspect feels a little unnecessary, there are plenty of elements within the design that will make you fall in love with Scotland.
***A Nintendo Switch key was provided by the publisher***
- Incredible Score
- Great Sense of Advenure
- Replay Value
- Some Animation Issues
- Sometimes Difficult to Determine What’s Interactable
- Health is Meaningless