The Wild at Heart
Two young friends embark on an adventure of magic and mystery
“We wanted to tell a story that aims for that imaginary escapism”
If you ever snuck into the woods as a child, hoping to find mythical creatures, or searched valiantly for a portal into another world, The Wild at Heart feels like it’s being made just for you. Currently in development at indie studio SleepNinja Games, it tells the story of two young friends who uncover a land of magic and monsters on the borders of their sleepy hometown.
It takes place in a small coastal town called Willowvale, which sits alongside a deep, sprawling forest. While exploring the woods one day, the game’s protagonists Wake and Kirby discover that there are friendly spirits living among the trees, and they’re being protected by an order called the Greenshields.
Justin Baldwin, creative director at SleepNinja Games, talks about these characters with unbridled enthusiasm. “The Greenshields defend the elemental spirit creatures from an all-consuming dark force called The Never,” he says. “The Greenshields haven’t had any new blood in years, and their order has stagnated to the point that they don’t remember their own names. Wake and Kirby must work together, with the aid of a loyal swarm of Spritelings, to battle enemies, construct new pathways, gather resources, reinvigorate the order of the Greenshields, and discover the secrets of this forgotten world.”
This all sounds very frightening for two children, but Kirby and Wake are prepared for their adventure. Wake is a precocious kid with a brilliant mind but a troubled home life who spends his time engineering various contraptions, such as his proton pack-inspired Gustbuster. Kirby, meanwhile, is Wake’s eight-year-old neighbor, who uses her budding investigative skills and trusty Peepmaster 4D goggles to solve mysteries.
The images SleepNinja has shared so far look beautiful. Kirby and Wake can be seen interacting with strange creatures, such as the giant weasel Cath, who greets the children with a Cheshire Cat-like grin, and an overgrown toad called a Bellowog. The little radish-shaped creatures that follow Wake and Kirby are called Spritelings, and players can use their Pikmin-esque qualities to solve puzzles, fight enemies and craft items.
“Throughout Wake and Kirby’s journey they will encounter many strange and interesting creatures,” says Baldwin. “These creatures will usually be an embodiment of a theme or conflict in our story. These creatures will act as [ Mario] Odyssey- like progression blockers that will need overcoming, befriending or appeasing to progress.”
SleepNinja has taken cues from the movies of Studio Ghibli, as well as Where the Wild Things Are and The NeverEnding Story. Like those narratives, a vein of melancholy has also slipped in.“I knew for a while I wanted to make a game about escapism with little creature buddies,” Baldwin says. “I think it came out of my continuing to work through and process things from my own childhood. It’s a time that is supposed to be before responsibility, before tragedy, before the world is anything other than magic. However, it’s also a time that can leave scars. We wanted to tell a story that aims for that imaginary escapism and nostalgia but also keep an honest heart when it comes to the challenges of childhood.”
It’s this interest in being a child that defines the game. “The lens of youth is the main theme,” Baldwin explains. “Getting lost in videogames and comics and cartoons, exploring the woods, seeing all the sights that your imagination would show you. We want this game to make you feel like you’re a kid again.” Kimberley Ballard
Spritelings can help you defeat enemies and gather resources.
Wake and Kirby meet a giant weasel spirit called Cath.