The life of a Viking isn’t all about raiding, pillaging, and fighting… just mostly
If you ask most people this day and age to describe to you what Vikings are, you’ll probably find yourself with the same, or at least a very similar, answer regardless of whom you ask. Vikings are a bygone race of hulking, muscular warriors that love nothing more than sailing to distant lands in order to claim whatever may be there for themselves and killing any individual that may resist their assault (and sometimes, even those who didn’t). I’m not here to say that that wasn’t true; that was a pretty accurate description of what Vikings did. What most of us don’t recognize however is that, while the whole “raiding and pillaging” aspect of the Vikings may be true, that’s not all that they did. When not engaged in high-stakes adventures out on the seas, Vikings spent much of their time performing other such duties such as farming, crafting, and, though it may seem inconceivable to some of us, caring for their families. Inevitably, after a period of rest, the time for adventure on the high seas calls many Vikings away from their homeland once more; farmers and craftsman put down their tools to once again brandish their weapons against the unknown forces that they so wish to overtake. But have you ever asked yourself what happens to the families left behind by these Viking warriors? Though farms may cease to yield produce and forges may grow cold, families do not simply “stop happening”. For the families of these warriors life goes on, and it is in this very situation that Tyrim, the titular protagonist of Cornerstone: The Song Of Tyrim, finds himself.
Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim begins with our hero, aptly named Tyrim, relaxing under a tree. Unlike most other boys on the island, Tyrim never really fancied himself a warrior. No, rather than growing up into a strong and capable fighter, Tyrim hoped to live his days in peace on the island as an inventor. With the men out on their latest conquest, Tyrim had had plenty of time to himself in order to work on his tinkering skills without interruption… at least until his friend showed up with a bit of unexpected news. It seemed as though the men of the village had, in fact, returned from their latest conquest but only for an amount of time so short that hardly anyone had noticed their arrival or subsequent departure. Something was amiss, and Tyrim had decided to find out what it was. If only he knew just how far his adventure was going to take him.
The gameplay of Cornerstone: The Song Of Tyrim could be summed up in one short, but perhaps previously unheard, phrase: “The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker plus crafting”. The game takes place in a fully three dimensional environment that encourages a healthy mix of exploration, crafting, puzzle-solving, and combat, most of which (barring those parts that are not applicable) mimic the style of play found in Wind Waker. Another Wind Waker-inspired aspect of Cornerstone is the ability to travel across the sea in order to visit distant lands. All-in-all, Cornerstone does a fantastic job of paying homage to, and drawing inspiration from, a different game while making sure that it retains quite a bit of its own flavor. Not once does it ever feel as though you are playing a re-skinned game. Cornerstone is uniquely its own.
While much of the inspiration behind Cornerstone: The Song Of Tyrim does in fact seem to be inspired by The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, there are several key aspects of the game that set it apart from what it has drawn inspiration from. First and foremost is the ability to jump. Though a sizable chunk of the game takes place on land that is more or less flat, players will be finding themselves using their platforming skills in order to scale up cliffs or find cleverly-hidden areas containing goodies. While the platforming is well-done for the most part, there do seem to be a few hiccups here and there. While nothing was unreachable without a little perseverance, I personally found it difficult to maneuver Tyrim up areas with small footholds. Even when I should have been landing on solid ground, a strange invisible force would seem to either push Tyrim back off of the platform-in-question, or not allow him to land properly. Regardless, the platforming aspects of Cornerstone were largely quite solid, and enjoyable overall.
Yet another, and perhaps even more important, unique feature found within Cornerstone: The Song Of Tyrim is the ability to craft. Rather than finding or purchasing specific weapons and items within Cornerstone, Tyrim, ever the tinkerer that he is, must build what he needs. Need to fight a bad guy? Build an axe, spear, or sword. Can’t reach that far-away location? Build a hang-glider. Is that cliff just a little too high? Build a crate (or two, or three, or four)! Keep in mind, though, that Tyrim can’t just build something out of nothing. Rather, the player must take care to collect resources as they venture about so that they may be prepared for whatever situation may arise. Blueprints are also needed in order to build each specific object-in-question, and can be found in certain areas, received through the story, or earned via sidequests that pop up during the game. Most objects, whether built by you or not, also have physics. Be careful when you’re swinging your weapon around!
Much of the story progression takes place through the form of quests, requiring Tyrim to speak to a specified individual, granting their request, and then proceeding onto the next step. While at first the thought of quest progression in a game such as this wasn’t the most exciting prospect, it actually fits into the game quite nicely. Though I have compared this game to Wind Waker, Tyrim is in no way Link. He’s not the reincarnation of some magnificent hero. He’s a confused, earnest, and slightly aloof little boy that just wants to see his dad, and the rest of his Viking clan that ventured out to sea, back to safety. The need to converse with a variety of characters also helps to paint a more varied cast within the game itself. Though some of the conversations within Cornerstone are filled with unnecessary goofiness, the writing was well-done overall; a bit plain here and there, but well-done nevertheless.
Visually, Cornerstone: The Song Of Tyrim is rather charming. Once again drawing inspiration from Wind Waker, Cornerstone takes place in a somewhat cartoon-like, vivid, cell-shaded environment that has clearly been crafted from the ground up with much care. Every area within Cornerstone, from peaceful forests to dark and dank tombs, feels unique and set apart from other areas within the game. The characters within Cornerstone are also crafted relatively well, though are not necessarily as varied as the environments (particularly when it came to Tyrim’s village being overrun by women and girls with lopsided buck teeth). Important characters within the game were much more varied than the lesser NPCs, which is really where it counts the most.
The soundtrack within Cornerstone: The Song Of Tyrim, as was with the graphical aspects, also a pleasant experience. Though the music never took the lead, it did very well in terms of enchanting both the graphical and gameplay aspects of the game. The soundtrack also did quite well with matching the current situation or area at-hand, and had an overall feel about it that was both playful when called for, and adventurous overall.
It’s safe to say that Cornerstone: The Song Of Tyrim is quite solid overall, and serves incredibly well as a tribute toward The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker while still standing proudly as its own game. With its bountiful freedom to explore, healthy mix of combat and puzzle-solving, well-implemented crafting system, and general ambition of the game itself, Tyrim’s coming-of-age story is surely worth a look at.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: Phoenix Online Publishing ; Developer: Overflow Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 26, 2016 ; ESRB: Not Rated ; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by the publisher.