REVIEW – Highwater

What would it be like if the world suddenly became flooded after a climate catastrophe, leaving the remaining residents of Earth to fend for themselves in hopes of eventually escaping to Mars? Highwater sets sail to answer that question in a 3D adventure with turn-based combat. Developed with grand aspirations, the game attempts to weave an intricate narrative tapestry while offering a mix of land and sea exploration. However, amidst its grandeur, there are noticeable flaws that hinder the overall experience.

One of the most glaring issues lies in the controls. While boating mechanics are passable, traversing on land proves to be a cumbersome ordeal. Party members frequently obstruct movement, leading to frustration during exploration. On top of that, I often felt like I was getting stuck behind something or that I should be able to go somewhere but couldn’t.

Furthermore, the camera implementation leaves much to be desired. At times, players are granted control over the camera, allowing for better navigation and exploration. However, this control is inconsistent, with moments where the camera remains static, limiting visibility and hindering gameplay immersion.

Combat in Highwater adopts a grid-based system, a divisive choice among players. While some may appreciate the tactical depth it offers, others may find it restrictive and cumbersome. Navigating the grid and combat options also takes a bit to get used to. I often found myself going to the wrong part of the grid or thinking I was selecting something only to find out it had deselected somehow. Additionally, battles are further complicated by a lack of essential information, making encounters feel more frustrating than naturally challenging.

The game’s pacing also suffers from inconsistency. I was often confused, as sometimes, I had to manually navigate through the water to the next destination, but other times, the game automatically sent me there. This lack of clarity disrupts the flow of the narrative and adds unnecessary perplexity to the gameplay experience.

Highwater is not all flaws, though. Again, the game’s ambitious storytelling sets it apart, offering players a rich narrative experience to uncover. The intricate plot and character development provide a compelling backdrop for exploration. There were some interesting decisions, though, when it comes down to the storytelling. Sometimes, the dialogue boxes play out for you, while other times, you must constantly press a button to manually progress. The reasons why this different is not obvious and just left me wondering. Similarly, there are a few moments when you get to choose what you say next, but it does not seem to have any effect on the overall narrative.

Visually, the game presents a very fun animation style in a hand-drawn water-color world. I really like how small touches were made to specific animations, like when a character has to lean over and cannot walk as fast when carrying a heavy object. While the graphics are visually appealing, there are a few moments of inconsistency that detract from the overall immersion, especially when navigating some areas where it gets difficult to know if you can go a specific direction or not. However, the visual effects and animations do add a strong layer of polish to the game’s presentation.

In terms of sound, the soundtrack felt all over the place. Sometimes, it was spot-on, and other times, it does not fit at all. The idea of an end-of-the-world radio station playing, though, was very clever and fun. The sound effects were generally good, though, and contribute to the atmosphere, enhancing the player’s immersion in the game world.

Overall, Highwater on the Nintendo Switch has some very high ambitious aspirations, but ultimately it struggles to navigate the rough seas of execution. Despite its compelling narrative and visual appeal, issues with controls, camera implementation, and pacing hinder the overall experience. While the game may appeal to players seeking a deep storytelling experience, others may find themselves adrift in a sea of frustration.

Game Title: Highwater
Publisher: Rogue Games
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Release Date: March 14, 2024
MSRP: $19.99 US

Obtained: Game code provided for press/review purposes