One of the perks that come with reviewing software for Pure Nintendo is getting to try out releases that I would otherwise skip. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised with good, or even great games. Other times I wind up with games that are subpar. Wheels of Aurelia is closer to the latter, although it really isn’t even a game.
Much more a visual novel than a driving game, Wheels of Aurelia’s success hinges on what makes visual novels great – strong art coupled with a strong story. Concerning the first, art isn’t a focus here, which is curious. Save a few panels that get displayed during one of sixteen endings, there’s not much in the way of eye candy. An adjustable camera can make the drive more exciting to watch, but it does slow things up. The scenery is basic and repetitive.
Now the story is interesting, which isn’t to say that it’s good. Taking place in Italy, during the spring of 1978, the discussions run a range of loaded topics – abortion, politics, religion, etc. You select from a few replies while driving, but just like texting while driving doesn’t mix well, neither does cycling through text while trying to concentrate on the road. This is especially true when race challenges come up. Conceptually this is a suspect idea, that the weakness of the “highly intuitive” controls bears out, and with no option to adjust.
The dialogue often doesn’t match up with the text that precedes it, leading to replies that make little sense. Replay can lead to expounded story, but after five or so playthroughs I started getting the same endings, despite making different choices. Given that many of the topics are specific to a region and time, I was looking forward to the “Wheelspedia” shedding insight on some of the events. Unless it has to be unlocked, the Switch port does not include it.
Wheels of Aurelia is unique, but that isn’t even to carry it. It misses the mark on visual novel staples, and the “compact game experience” it offers doesn’t justify the $9.99 cost. As is my custom when reviewing software that really doesn’t fall under a game category, I’m not scoring this one. But it should be clear that I find this title to come up short in multiple areas. Nevertheless, the foundation is here for something better – a visual novel with increased interactivity. Hopefully, Santa Ragione can come back strong with their next Switch release. A greater focus on the visual end combined with topics of broader appeal will help.