From Publisher MixedBag Srl and Developer Santa Ragione Srl comes Wheels of Aurelia, the unique and heavily story driven visual novel that leads our protagonist Lella through the famous “Via Aurelia” to discover a new side of Italy during the 1970s.
Embark on an immersive road trip through the gritty western coast of Italy playing as Lella, a bold, spunky woman with a dark and mysterious past. Take the road in any way you please with the potential to unlock up to sixteen different endings based on your choices throughout the game. Get ready to meet an unpredictable cast of dynamic characters while focusing more on the road trip, instead of the destination.
Wheels of Aurelia offers a lot of potential as a concept for a game that is really one of the first of its kind. When I saw the launch trailer, I was blown away by the unique visuals, the all-original Italian soundtrack, and was genuinely interested in the storyline behind the game. Upon actually playing through the game (way more than sixteen times…), however, I was left quite disappointed in all but a few elements of the game.
The story attempts to be engaging and diverse, but by creating a compact gaming experience, the story is never really allowed to flourish and thrive. There are moments throughout the game where you could be in the middle of developing a plot point and then you’ll reach a checkpoint or you’ll pick up a new hitchhiker and as a result the development simply gets cut off and you’re left doing something brand new. This lack of seamless storytelling takes away so much from the ability to keep players engaged, especially when you’re never able to flush out the characters for long enough to form a connection with them. Additionally, this lack of connectivity gives players little reason to try and grind out the sixteen possible endings. Personally, by the time I had unlocked ending six I was quite sick of playing through the game. There was never a continued sense of engagements and I felt like I continued to play simply to unlock all of the endings.
It’s difficult to talk about the gameplay of Wheels of Aurelia for two reasons. The first is that there are two different styles of gameplay occurring at once, one for a driving style game and another for a Tell Tale games style ‘choose your dialogue’ style of game; and the second is that the controls are so minimalistic so as to not get in the way of the story but they’re executed so poorly that they ultimately take so much away from the delivery of the narrative.
Both of the gameplay ideas offer littler satisfaction in their execution and left me very confused in trying to execute both at the same time. As you’re driving on this road trip, you’re able to select any one of a number of dialogue options that influence your story. If you happen to be caught up in the driving (more on that in a minute) you are forced to simply fumble through the dialogue options as many times as you need in order to read them and understand better the story ark you’re trying to create before you settle on one. As soon as you settle on a line of dialogue you have to wait for a new response from your carpool characters in order to engage in a new bout of dialogue. This process gets repeated for the entirety of the play through and you’re left in this vicious circle of repetition with very few moments keeping you engaged and wanting more.
The driving in this game feels so secondary and so awful that it’s even more difficult to talk about. If you don’t press any of the buttons available to you, the car will move automatically and take you through the entirety of the game, leaving you the option to focus exclusively on the dialogue, but you move at a snails pace and will get bored incredibly fast as you wait for the dialogue options to continue to generate.
You do have the ability to make your car move faster, but once you do that you have to take over with the steering mechanic for your vehicle as well. This steering mechanic is incredibly clumsy and in my opinion only takes away from the narrative at play because you’re left focusing on turning corners and avoiding cars instead of the storyline decisions that need to be made. There is, additionally, no consequence for running in to other cars as you drive along the road, so the driving portion of this game becomes even more useless and unnecessary as an additional controllable portion of the game.For a game that touts itself as a Visual Novel and Driving Game, I think Wheels of Aurelia might have been better off if they chose to focus completely on making the story even more engaging for gamers and turn the entire gameplay in to a true ‘choose your adventure’ style of game with automated cut scenes between dialogue selections instead of clunky and unnecessary driving.
The only redeeming qualities of Wheels of Aurelia lie in the visuals and in the soundtrack. The visuals were handcrafted by renowned illustrators in order to bring Italy to life in a fresh and stylistically appropriate way, and additionally, the all original soundtrack is a true delight and the aesthetic provided by the quality of music is incredibly helpful in developing the tone of the game and is one of the true gems of this rather lackluster game. By the end of it all you can tell that a lot of time was spent in creating and designing the characters, the landscapes and the music, it’s just unfortunate that similar time and energy wasn’t spent in the gameplay design or story delivery.
With the ambition of being a pioneering game for the interactive visual novel genre, Wheels of Aurelia falls short in almost every facet. The gameplay elements are incredibly lackluster and almost useless at times, while the story never really keeps the player engaged. It’s unfortunate for a game that boasts such great visual content and an awesome soundtrack, but ultimately Wheels of Aurelia is just a boring game and definitely falls well short of being a NintenDeal.