MixedBag’s second Switch title (after the decent Forma.8), Wheels of Aurelia is a narrative-driven road trip game of sorts; a game not that easy for me to label. Set in 1978 Italy, you take control of a girl driving from Rome to France, picking up hitchhikers and engaging in conversations along the way. A somewhat difference premise, indeed, and a game I actually enjoyed more than I expected.
Initial reactions to the game weren’t exactly the best for me. Wheels of Aurelia adopts a very simple art style, with the game’s main graphics being diorama renditions of Italian cities, with very simple polygons and very few textures, as well as static character portraits. I get the art style, but I can’t help but feel exhausted with the visuals after a while. Even though each playthrough isn’t long, and even though the game boasts lots of different towns for you to visit, the visuals are indeed pretty repetitive. The gameplay is also very simplistic, as it can be summarized as selecting bits and pieces of dialogue and, if you want to, steering your car in order to overtake someone in front of you (you can leave that to the AI if you want, though). While not exactly a walking simulator in this department, as there’s a little bit more interactivity than your average pretentious “tour de force”, there were moments in which Wheels of Aurelia disappointed me in this department.
If the graphics aren’t that good and the gameplay is faulty, how am I still saying the game was actually an enjoyable experience? Well, it’s all about the game’s setting and uniqueness. Wheels of Aurelia is set in 1970’s Italy, in a period full of turmoil, such as dealing with fascism and communist groups, the typical North versus South debacle, kidnappings, women trying to have a mentality of their own in an extremely religious and conservative country, as well as your typical Italian talk such as Juventus and the Sanremo Music Festival. For most of you reading this review, you might be completely lost with what I’m saying. Wheels of Aurelia definitely doesn’t shy away from the fact it’s an Italian game made nearly exclusively for an Italian audience, or people into the history and the culture of that country. Yes, it is a niche, but the game masterfully knows how to grab its niche audience and keep it entertained to the end.
Another aspect that deserves a lot of praise is the soundtrack, once again catered to Italians and fans of Italian music in general. From the excellent main theme to all songs being played on the radio, the soundtrack doesn’t ooze as much of a 70’s vibe as it should, but it’s a great collection of fully sung Italian rock songs in its own right. It mostly compensates for the fact that the game features absolutely no voice acting and very few sound effects.
The game isn’t very long, as most endings can be reached in about half an hour. The game features sixteen endings, all related to the slightest differences in your dialogue choices or if you pull a detour or not. In a way, that encourages multiple playthroughs, but then again, that also means you’ll be forced to experience a lot of the same over and over again in order to 100% the game. Thankfully, Wheels of Aurelia does feature a “level select” of sorts, therefore allowing you to skip some unnecessary segments of the game.
I’m not going to try to convince you that Wheels of Aurelia is a game for everyone, because it surely isn’t. Its themes, stories, characters, subjects, they’re all very Italian; something not everyone will either care to take a peek at or try to fully understand. For those interested in the themes the game offers, however, this is truly a unique experience. Riding a coupé through an Italian coastal road while talking to a Sicilian about why he cheers for Juventus instead of Palermo is something not found anywhere else in gaming form, for instance. If you’re into story-driven experiences, and if you’re Italian or someone really into Italy and its culture, don’t even think twice; Wheels of Aurelia will easily be something you’ll enjoy, despite a handful of technical issues.
Also available on: PS4, PC, Xbox One
Copy of Wheels of Aurelia provided by publisher