Every so often, a game comes along that you really struggle to put down. For us, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is that game. Providing a dangerous mix of Harvest Moon-esque farming, collectables galore and open-world exploration that we find very hard to put down, this is a game that's sucked up our free time like nothing else. Much like when we first got stuck into The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, where we spent days doing nothing but picking flowers, "borrowing" cutlery from people's houses and using our ill-gotten funds to buy horses and houses, we've ended up spending most of our time here searching for Yonder's lost cat population. A noble cause perhaps, but maybe not the most productive when you have a review deadline looming.
Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles begins in dramatic fashion, when you set out on a voyage back to your homeland, only to end up sinking in a storm just before you reach the shore. Dragging yourself out of the big blue wet thing, you set foot upon your home island of Gemea to find it's been taken over by a shadowy purple smog known as 'the Murk', cutting off whole areas from each other and causing chaos for the locals. Fortunately, you have the unique power of the 'Sprite-Seer', which lets you find and collect little fairy-like creatures known as Sprites, which serve as your number one weapon against the aforementioned Murk. By borrowing their powers, you can clear the island of the Murk, and prevent any more leaking out by rebuilding the titular Cloud Catcher, hopefully restoring Gemea to its former glory in the process.
Giving you a huge world chock-full of things to find and do, Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles is Harvest Moon meets Zelda (kind of) - with snow-capped mountains, hidden caves and sprawling fields to explore, animals to adopt and raise, and crops to grow, along with umpteen quests to lend a hand with along the way. There's elements of Minecraft here too, with a robust crafting system that sees you making everything from earmuffs and raincoats, to fish and chips and berry pie, to stone bridges and animal shelters from the raw materials you find on your travels. Admittedly, it's a lot more of an open world adventure than it is a farming game, but that's not necessarily a bad thing either, as the world really is jam-packed with things to keep you busy.
Starting out with just a single Sprite at your disposal, you'll soon find patches of the dreaded Murk that require more magic than a lone Sprite can muster - as such, one of your key objectives in Yonder is to track down extra Sprites, which have hidden themselves all across the island to escape the encroaching purple smog. Sometimes hiding in a bush, sometimes sitting atop a mountain or sometimes only appearing when you position some statues just right, hunting out all 26 Sprites is a surprisingly lengthy endeavour, especially as freeing up each new patch of Murk will open up new areas to scour.
In order to repair the aforementioned Cloud Catcher - a device that helps filter out the Murk from the air at source - you'll need to learn to craft across a whole host of different disciplines, as well as enlisting the help of the ancestors of the master craftsfolk who built the original contraption. Crafting is a big thing in the world of Yonder, and each little village you stumble on has its own favourite trade you can learn the ways of, be it a chef, tailor or carpenter. This is where the Minecraft aspect comes in, as you'll need to harvest the raw materials you need for each item from the wilderness, whether it's chopping down trees for the wood needed to make a shelter for that Sprig-Pig you want to adopt, or breaking up stones in order to build a bridge over a river. As you work your way through each discipline's guild quests, you'll unlock new recipes, many of which will work their way into the various quests you'll come across.
Easily one of the highlights of the game are the quests you'll come across during your travels - while a fair few do come under standard fetch quest territory, tasking you with finding someone a handful of sticks, or a bottle of 'Festival Juice' and the like, there are some more creative, unusual and entertaining ones thrown in for good measure. One early one saw us helping an old guy find his lost Bambex (essentially a deer with horns of epic proportions) - yet every identical-looking Bambex we coaxed over to him had something wrong with it. Hooves too shiny, horns too pointy; his list of reasons why that wasn't his Bambex was about as long as the chuffing creatures' horns, until you eventually stumble on the correct one. A bit further through the game, the locals asked you to investigate a ghost in a nearby cavern, because they're all too chicken to enter - a ghost which turns out to be a senile old man's wailing Groffle (a kind of moose-y cow), Betsy, who'd been hiding inside since the Murk first appeared, quite a few years ago. There's also a lady whose Groffle herd keep running away whenever it's 'tea party dress up' time, a stylish scarecrow who wants a fabulous new outfit for every season, and a wannabe comedienne travelling the world looking for an epic joke.
Sprites aren't the only thing you can collect in Yonder either - in fact, for completionists, it's a veritable treasure trove of things to find and do. There's umpteen lost cats to find, several constellations to spot, various animals and fish to find and catch, and more outfits and accessories to adorn your avatar than you can shake a (well-dressed) stick at. Sage Stones - large stone faces that act as portals between the different regions - need to be found and unlocked too, usually by completing a quick quest for them. Even the Murk clouds serve as a collectable of sorts, with each region having a number of patches you need to clear away, with each requiring a different number of Sprites.
However, if you were hoping for a Harvest Moon-style farming game, that's perhaps the only area you may be disappointed with in Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, as the farming here is very much on the 'lite' side - really, there's not a lot to do on your little plot of land besides stop by from time to time to clear up poop. Animals are earned by finding a suitable wild beast and feeding it its favourite food, at which point it will follow you for a short distance - keep topping your Grass Fox (an adorable, red panda-like creature) up with Fodder, and you'll eventually get it to the gates of your little farmstead, where you can make it your own. As long as you've built enough shelters, a water trough and a food trough, animals are largely autonomous, and even go so far as depositing their produce in a box out front for your convenience. Plants are even less demanding - just pop one in the ground and walk away; return a little while later and you'll have berries, potatoes and the like with next to no work on your part. If anything, the best use for your farm - especially once you start to open up the other plots in the other regions - is as an overflow for your inventory; items you deposit in the storage box in one location can be picked up in other locations via some crazy game wizardry. This means that you needn't worry too much about what to take with you on your explorations, especially as you'll likely find yourself being asked to craft something that relies on the raw materials you stashed away earlier.
Our only real gripe - and it's a relatively minor one at that - is that, for a game built so heavily on exploration, the map isn't particularly good. Along the way, you'll sometimes find yourself building bridges to cross canyons and rivers, but these never get added to the map, so you often find yourself running around aimlessly looking for the bridge you're sure you built but can't find. And, as we're hopelessly bad at following a map on a good day, the fact the game plots your path to your next quest as the crow flies rather than taking into account the lay of the land often scuppered us, as we found ourselves boxed in by cliffs mere steps from our objective, forcing us to head miles out of our way to get back on track. Unlocking the aforementioned Sage Stones, which give you some much-needed shortcuts between the regions, does help somewhat, but we do find they're not necessarily in the most convenient of locations either.
We really do like Yonder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles - it's a laid back, collectable-filled world that we can just do our own thing in, full of quirky characters and quests to complete. Full of charm, cute creatures and oodles of things to keep you busy, those looking for a nice relaxing game devoid of any combat really should look it up. Also it has collectable cats - and that can't be a bad thing.