Camp W is the latest in a recent rush of visual novels to arrive on Steam. While we’ve seen everything from pigeon dating sims, the obligatory anime otome adventures, to some downright depressing narratives this story of witchcraft is a perfect retreat from reality if you are looking for an uplifting experience. Filling the same shelf space as titles like Life is Strange and Oxenfree, Camp W is a slightly lighter tale of magic, the odd monster, and summer camp.
Coming from deepest Glasgow, I have no frame of reference for summer camp. The nearest most of us in the UK come to this great American Tradition is a wet weekend in Wales. Thankfully I’ve never been a cat, pigeon, or on the high school swimming team so I figured this is no real hindrance and I could suspend my disbelief for a few hours. Thankfully Camp-W does a great hob of charming you into submission from the opening moments.
Starting out in the Witching world of Coventry, Camp-W is a delight form the moment players pick their character. The deliberately odd animation style of the characters is oddly reminiscent of late nineties Nickelodeon with a lighter edge. The hand-drawn style, soft shades, and angular lines give the characters and many of their surroundings a distinctive personality that serves to make you feel like you could be watching a Saturday morning cartoon unfold. Similarly, Davey Thomas Tucker’s soundtrack is a fantastic accompaniment to the game’s story. For a visual novel, it is unusually expansive and manages to convey a real moment of mystery and magic as you adventure out into the real world.
The player character’s departure from the relative safety of their home, out into the real world is the jumping off point for an unexpected adventure where players must try to fit in around the real world, make friends, and solve some spooky mysteries. Touching on being an outsider, the bonds of friendship, and finding your own place makes Camp-W a great exploration of some well-trodden themes. The quirky characters are utterly endearing and, at times, quite relatable. The Camp counselor’s coffee grumbles especially so. Each of the inmates at Camp-W, from a self-confessed witch Sophie to the always cool Sid, are full of their own charming quirks. This includes your own familiar.
This mini ginger menace is a family familiar, your stalwart companion and link to the witching world. Nugget is a great source of comic relief throughout and manages to bounce well off the player character. In the end, all of these characters are supported by an inventive narrative and the type of script that makes this game a treat for all ages. While this is no bad thing, sometimes Camp W does lean very heavily on its dialogue.
Sneaking out at night is almost a camp activity in its own right, yet these encounters are quite passive affairs. The writing and fantastic 2D stills are a joy to behold, but choices here are largely tied to the narrative direction and involve clicking one of three options. When presented with any situation, players are not challenged to solve puzzles or engage with many of the interactive systems that could easily have been inserted. Even the cute collectible system and spellbook mechanic seems superfluous when there is no failure state. Still, this is a slight concern for a game that managed to capture my heart and build a world that I will happily visit again. After losing an afternoon to my first playthrough with LiL, I’ll be spending another summer at Camp W soon. Camp-W is out now via Steam.