Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a game built on stories. You collect them, trade them, and grow them. It’s unlike any game you’ve played before.
It seems that the protagonist is dead, or at least stuck in some sort of limbo. He or she collects stories from across the country, and many of them deal with demons and the occult. Tarot cards are used to organize the stories you collect.
Your character usually doesn’t commit violence, but many of the stories told are violent in nature. Violent acts are described, but never seen. Some of the stories are graphic, and have depictions of blood and gore like decapitations and disembowelment.
There are R rated expletives scattered throughout the game, usually said in the stories told.
A handful of stories mention sex and sexual acts. They are not described, but mentioned as an activity. Nothing is seen on screen.
Some characters smoke, some drink alcohol, and stories mention each.
Other Negative Themes
Depending on your leaning, there seems to be subtle but strong bent towards socialism. It’s mentioned a few times in the game, almost always in a positive light.
The game centers itself around the theme of folklore and how stories are told, and in doing so is educational. It also is a primer on American folklore, as some of the stories told are real ones we share as a society today.
What do you get if you mix the serene nature of Journey, the atmosphere and themes of Over the Garden Wall, and the mechanics of Pokémon? You get a game called Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Of all the games I’ve played in my career as a gamer, this one is the most unique. I can’t think of another game on the market that feels quite like this one. Unique doesn’t necessarily mean good, but before anyone clicks “X,” this game is fantastic. It suffers from a slow build of momentum, but once you get the hang of things, it’s addicting and edifying.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine starts with you making a deal with a patron of dubious origin. After gambling away your word, your wolf-headed master tells you to travel across the continental United States to collect stories. He sends you on your way, and you’re left on a large map, with a knapsack and a dirty hat.
The map goes all the way from Maine to California, and each state has several points of interest to investigate. There are over 200 different stories to collect, but the game doesn’t give you any sort of time limit to do so. You’ll spend the majority of the game traveling to these points, which will put you through a quick narrative. There will be a few choices you can make in these scenarios that determine what story you get out of it (say, a scary story versus a love story) and then you move on and find another story to collect.
The stories themselves are quite interesting. Many of them tell tales of horror, tragedy, as well as joy and fun. They’re all have the feel of American folklore to them, and traveling to different parts of the country will get you different types of stories. Stories in the northeast have more industrial undertones, whereas traveling to the southwest has more narratives from the Hispanic point of view. Where the Water Tastes like Wine feels honestly authentic, and often I find myself questioning whether some of theses stories were created for the game or actually pulled from some obscure part of American history.
What really makes this game exciting is how the stories evolve as you collect them. As you gather stories and share them, they spread and change. There are three levels: the original, the exaggerated, and the fantastic tales. Leveling-up these stories is important to finishing the game, since spreading higher level stories means netting higher level stories in return. The game really comes alive as the stories evolve, and is one of my favorite aspects of this game.
One of my favorite examples happened when my character was in the northeast, near New York City. He stopped and observed a man at night riding a horse. He asked me in a thick German accent whether I sad seen a cannonball fly by. After saying no, he rode away, and as he did, I noticed blood from a bullet wound running down his back. I told this story around Pennsylvania, and it got back to me in Dallas, but by the time it did, it was a story about a headless horseman riding around Upstate New York. And as I got closer to Los Angeles, the story was known as Ichabod and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
Needless to say, I was quite excited when I met a man named Paul in Oregon who could fell a tree with one swing of his axe. I couldn’t wait to spread that tale around.
The game contains 16 unique characters that have their own stories to tell along the way, which can only be unlocked by telling them the fantastic stories you hear elsewhere. This is the main goal of the game. Your patron wants you to collect stories, but is most interested in the true stories these characters tell. Most of the story collecting will be for these sixteen. The game makes it worthwhile. Each character is unique, from a different era of American history, and a different region. Up near Boston, for example, is a World War I veteran, and I found a Vietnam-era hippie near Las Vegas. They are all fully voice acted, adding to the charm.
The game’s greatest strength, its uniqueness, is also one of its weaknesses. As mentioned above, because this game is so unique, there’s a deep learning curve, and this game doesn’t do a lot of hand holding. There’s a lot about the game that needs to be figured out by yourself. The stories you collect will be sorted in different categories based on tarot symbolism. There’s a logic to it, but it takes a while to figure out.The only other major issue is that there’s only one save profile. You have to play through the game or restart, though I hope the studio will patch this.
The artwork is scratchy and sketchy, and fits the atmosphere of this game, but the 3D overworld is a little lacking. The graphics don’t have to be good, but they’re PlayStation 2 level. And since a lot of time is spent in the overworld, making it look more appealing would help ease the time spent walking it. On the other hand, the music choices are great. Each region of the country has its own unique playlist that’s evocative and catchy.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is one of the few games I would recommend to anyone, gamer or non-gamer. It’s fun and inventive, and actually teaches you something. I came away from this game edified, appreciative of the American culture, and perhaps most surprisingly, with a hunger for more. It’s a game that, while tough at first, won me over with its earnestness and charm. I will be playing this game for quite some time.
Review code generously provided by Sandbox Strategies
The Bottom Line
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a game as well as a full experience. It transports you to another time and another place, and brings you to the stream of American legends. With fun, inventive gameplay and story after story to collect, it's a game unlike any other.