Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a unique game that defies genre. You play a hitchhiking hobo skeleton who travels across an early 20th century United States of America and your goal is to listen to the stories people tell and to spread them all over. As you advance through the game, you’ll hear the same stories repeated back, and they’ll become more and more outlandish. Colorful camp mates like an injured soldier or a migrant worker enrich the experience, and the voice acting is incredible. The stories are touching, and within an hour of playing, I was shedding a few tears.
You don’t start the game as a skeleton, though the hitchhiking and hobo parts seem to be true. You start off playing a game of poker with the Man in Gray (voiced by Sting) and bet everything you have. But you lose of course, and now you owe him. He conscripts you into an experiment. Listen to stories, watch how they grow, and witness how the tales change the lives of those who hear them.
To traverse America, you can walk, hitchhike, jump on a caboose, or buy a ticket to get on that train legally. All methods of transportation have their pros and cons, but I found that setting the character to walk automatically and occasionally setting a course was best. In order to go faster, you hold down a button and whistle whatever song is playing to keep your spirits up.
The imagery uses an old-fashioned map for the overworld, a style for encounters that’s a cross between comics and woodprints, and tarot cards and symbols for the various menus. The music in Where the Water Tastes like Wine is spectacular. Depending on what region you’re in, you’ll hear various tunes in different styles, ranging from jazz to bluegrass and more.
You’ll find regional stories all over, albeit sometimes in the wrong places. I ran into John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) in upstate New York, but the Headless Horseman, also a New York story, was in Pittsburgh for some reason. You’ll meet legends like Pecos Bill, monsters like the Jersey Devil, and even real people like the Leatherman in Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. Every time you have an encounter like this, you choose your reaction and it changes the outcome of the story. What starts as a joke can end up a tragedy, and what seems like a hopeful tale can turn into a genuinely spooky one. No one will have the same experience playing this as anyone else.
There’s no such thing as a perfect piece of art, and Where the Water Tastes Like Wine has its own problems. Getting around is slow and clunky, which is technically a feature, but sometimes you just want to get on with it. For folks like myself who eat these legends up, finding them in the wrong places on the map is jarring, even if they are in the proper region. The mechanics could also be a bit simpler, as there’s a whole system of managing different story genres and types. This last bit involves some tarot-based and other esoteric symbols that I still haven’t gotten the hang of. However, I can’t help but feel that these complaints could actually be strengths in someone else’s eyes.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is one of the strangest and most unique games I’ve ever played. At times it feels almost like a board game, specifically Tales of the Arabian Nights. This isn’t a bad thing. The aesthetics combine early 1900s Americana with tarot card imagery, and it meshes quite well. The music and voice acting are top-notch, and it’s clear that a lot of love and effort went into making this game.
That being said, you shouldn’t go into this one looking to speedrun it. Like, well, a fine wine, this game is meant to be savored. Play half an hour a night, maybe an hour. The stories will still be there for you. Your friends might hop from town to town, but you’ll always be able to find them. And if you’re unlucky, or perhaps lucky, the Wolf will also find you.
A review code was provided by the publisher.