Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles was one of real highlights of last year. It’s a quiet, relaxing, peaceful adventure through a world more interested in community and sustainability than violence and conquest. It’s an open-world game where that structure underscores the ideas that the narrative sets out to explore, rather than being at odds with them, as is the case in so many other open-world games. In so many ways, it was a breath of fresh air.
Now, Yonder finds a new home on Switch, and it’s a match made in heaven. For one, it’s a perfect game for a handheld console: the simple, compelling game loop makes it easy to play in short bursts or four lengthy sessions, and the relaxing tone is a natural fit for playing while cozied up in bed, or on the couch, or inside a blanket fort. It also includes the numerous quality-of-life improvements that have been made since the game first launched—bigger inventory! Fast travel!—and a brand new photo mode.
On a deeper level, Yonder is a perfect game for a Nintendo console because they both seem to be driven by a similar philosophy: one of innovation, of playful energy, of community, of peace, of sustainability. If I didn’t know better (and if I hadn’t played it on PS4 last year) I’d have readily believed that Yonder was a first-party Nintendo game.
Yonder begins with you washing up in Gemea: a peaceful island with a handful of tight-knit communities spread across it, but one slowly being torn apart by a dark energy dubbed “Murk”. As the rare sort of person who’s able to communicate with magical sprites, it’s up to you to gather enough of a sprite following to cleanse Gemea of Murk once and for all.
This plays out in a similar structure to most other open-world games: you travel across the map, picking up quests and helping people out, delivering items back and forth, and gradually venturing further afield. But rather than being a way to pad out an otherwise linear story—as you often see with open-world games—these “fetch quests” are a cornerstone of the story the game tells and the mood it sets out to create.
Exploration and discovery aren’t optional objectives; they’re the primary bass by which the story of Yonder develops. The numerous sidequests aren’t there to load you up with Things To Do; they’re about involving you in the communal, collaborative aspect that drives Gemea’s culture.
To that end, cooperation between the different villages is a major theme within the quests you’re asked to undertake. Each of the various towns has its own trade specialties—Wimblewick is a carpentry town, for instance, while Mocha Bay prides itself on food production. Most of the tasks people ask of you involve facilitating trade between the different communities in some way or another, like helping source materials they rely on, or assisting in the development of new goods.
To further emphasise the point, there’s no money in Yonder; instead, the economy runs on a barter system. Each item has a base value, and if you want to “buy” anything from merchants, you have to give them items off equivalent value. The value of particular items also changes from town to town depending on availability—for instance, in the fishing village Riverdrift Mill, fish are worth a lot less than normal, but high-demand seeds and herbs are worth a lot more.
That naturally creates an environment of productive trade. Being economically efficient in Yonder isn’t about hoarding cash or grinding for loot; it’s about giving what you have plenty of in exchange for what you don’t. As a traveller, you get to be a conduit between all the different towns and all the goods they produce.
Much of your time will also be spent crafting items yourself, with a growing selection of recipes as you learn from the masters of various crafting guilds. You can also build farms across Gemea, and use these to grow produce and raise animals. Yonder‘s crafting and farming systems stick closely to convention, but they feed into the bigger picture that the game creates.
That picture is one of community, where everyone works together, supports one another, and is able to thrive as a result.
The Murk is a threat to all that. This isn’t some horde of monsters that needs to be violently—cartoon violence or otherwise—fought back; rather, its an encroaching fog that slowly corrupts the environment and blocks off sections of the map. Clearing each patch of Murk is simply a case of gathering the required number of Sprites, but the environmental metaphor is clear: pollution is a scourge that can only be addressed through collaboration.
This is what I mean when I say that Yonder challenges the norms of open-world games. It uses a lot of familiar systems to create a simple, approachable play loop, but all these different aspects of the game work in tandem to sell the ideas at its heart. This isn’t a game with a sharp divide between “story” and “gameplay”; they’re be and the same.
When I reviewed it last year, I said that Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles was “a familiar but evergreen tale of environmentalism and community”, wrapped in a charming open world that you can explore at your leisure. That’s every bit as true in the Switch version, but now you can take beautiful Gemea with you on your commutes and cuddle a grass fox while you’re cozied up in bed. What more could you want?
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is developed and published by Prideful Sloth. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PC.
A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.