Indie Spotlight - Everybody Wham Wham
Snowman building competitions, acoustic rhythms, and karaoke - what's not to love?
A diamond in the snow
Indie games are uniquely positioned in modern gaming. In a landscape of AAA studios that can spend 5 years or more developing a game that doesn't quite come together the way the developer envisioned, indie titles have a huge advantage - they can deliver exactly the experience they intend to the player, provided the hurdles of skillsets and initial funding can be overcome.
In a sea of options for the indie-savvy gamer, sometimes it is challenging to put a trailer in front of somebody that instantly captivates them - a euphoric, critical moment of importance where the developers have mere seconds to hold your attention from scrolling on or clicking away.
". . . We're in a room together, and one of us had a guitar - somebody just started singing 'Everybody Wham Wham' and from there we just wrote the song."
In the case of Bonte Avond's title Everybody Wham Wham, that critical window of exposure was more than enough to sell me. When the odd juxtaposition was shown of a man in a pumpkin outfit that appeared to be engaging in a delightful snowman building session, I was intrigued. But when the acoustic guitar came in? As Fry from Futurama would say, "Shut up and take my money!"
That's why when I was fortunate enough to feature the entire development team of Bonte Avond in our Episode 39 Bonus Round segment, I was ecstatic. I certainly had questions, especially about the soothing melodies found not just in the theme song, but throughout the game.
Bonte Avond consists of four musicians, who decided to get together and make video games. Everybody Wham Wham is their latest offering, taking the player through a delightfully relaxing romp through a snowman building competition. The question I simply had to know was, where on Earth did the game title come from?
"One of us just randomly named a Google Drive folder "Wham Wham The Snowman-Man Snowman Building Festival," said Mark L. during our interview. "Eventually, we're in a room together, and one of us had a guitar - somebody just started singing 'Everybody Wham Wham!' and from there we just wrote the song."
An album that comes with a game
There's an endless sea of games, both indie, and AAA alike, that feature outstanding soundtracks. For me, some of the most memorable have always been vocal tracks that directly reference the game itself, like the Portal classic Still Alive. Moments like that in gaming are special because you feel like you're getting a really special payoff - something that a cutscene or plot twist just can't deliver is that simple pleasure that comes from hearing a well-crafted song.
Some of the game's best vocal acoustic tracks were recorded in a single take.
Everybody Wham Wham smartly offers the soundtrack for just a few dollars extra on Steam, and if you've watched the trailer above, you've probably already got the title track's hook stuck in your head. Music isn't just a pleasant feature of Everybody Wham Wham, it is a central source of the game's zen vibe. As gameplay unfolds, a radio can be heard playing a wide range of eclectic tracks, like my favorite Don't Bring The Tuba.
Kyon Edelenbosch explained how all those songs came about. "The reason why we did that was that very early on in development, we just decided we wanted to make a lot of improvised, whacky songs. . . as if we were live performing, and then putting those first takes of us performing in the game." Indeed, some of the game's best vocal acoustic tracks (including my favorite tuba-centric jam) were recorded in a single take. That checks out - if you listen carefully during, or even after a song ends, you can hear some chuckles between the musicians as if it was the first time they had heard it.
That sort of musical intimacy is rare in gaming. Most musicians (and publishers) would want a highly polished product that lacks the blemishes of an improvised first take. And yet, Bonte Avond has that critical advantage of being able to present us with exactly what they wanted. The result is a memorable soundtrack that is worth the USD 4.99 price tag by itself.
But hey, we haven't even talked about the actual game of building snowmen!
Do you want to build a Snowman-Man?
The plot of Everybody Wham Wham is pretty simple - you have entered a snowman building competition, where you must compete in a series of themed challenges that would fit right into a reality show. One round may have you go for a fantasy-themed snowman, while later rounds incorporate some unique plot twists you may not see coming as sabotage comes into play from rival snowman builders.
Yes, as the label informs you, that is a jury table on robotic legs. I guess that checks out since you can't exactly bring the finished snowman to the jury. In these competitions, every design choice matters. For example, in the fantasy-themed round, opting for a more traditional snowman will almost certainly result in getting docked points. But that's not all - the build of your snowman needs to check out, with properly rolled snowballs that start large and stack smaller. This is the World Cup of snowman building as far as I'm concerned because these judges are not messing around.
Of course, not all is as it seems in the competition, and the narrative of the game is quickly set in motion as we learn this year's grand prize is suspiciously less . . . well, grand . . . than previous years. I certainly won't spoil anything, but rest assured you're going to make some friends along the way!
The prize of friendship
In between rounds of the competition, you get some downtime to explore the village and hang out with your friends - and competitors. I have to say, I think I enjoyed these sections of the game more than the actual gameplay loop of snowman building, if for no other reason than the unexpectedly warm and fuzzy charm that the developers put into these sections.
From making friends over cups of hot chocolate to group karaoke sessions, Everybody Wham Wham will give you the warm fuzzies from start to finish.
There's such a fun variety in these nighttime sections of the game that you're almost definitely going to slow roll your way through to drink in all of the action - sometimes literally, in the form of chocolademelk. (Dutch for hot chocolate - yeah, I had to Google that one.) From making friends over cups of hot chocolate to group karaoke sessions, Everybody Wham Wham will give you the warm fuzzies from start to finish.
During our interview, Mark B. pointed out that the vibe I got from these sections were intended: "The idea of that creativity and improvisation that we did . . . the amount of fun that we had making the game comes across when you're actually playing it." He's right - a lot of the sections and sequences that you encounter in the game do feel like a scenario that they pitched off the cuff, and the team said to go with it. While that almost certainly wouldn't fly in a larger studio environment with corporate suits to answer to, Bonte Avond's team knows their style and have leaned into it with Everybody Wham Wham.
With it's soothing gameplay and catchy soundtrack, Everybody Wham Wham is easily the biggest hidden gem I've come across this year, and I highly recommend checking it out on Steam - listen to our interview with them below (the interview starts at 34:15):
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