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Woodle Tree Adventures (Switch) artwork

Woodle Tree Adventures (Switch) review


"The only ones likely to be pleased if you purchase Woodle Tree Adventures are the game's developer and publisher."


I wish I were creative enough to come up with an interesting way to introduce Woodle Tree Adventures, an uninspiring 3D platformer that has arrived on Nintendo Switch several years after its PC and Mac debut in 2014, but I'm stumped. The game itself doesn't do anything particularly noteworthy, and that's part of my trouble. But in that game's defense, it was made mostly by just one guy.

The story begins as you emerge from the ground and your father tells you that you must save the forest. He looks a bit like The Great Deku Tree from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, except that was a considerably better game. Woodle Tree Adventures is so short and so bland that you might well clear it in less time than it took you to find your way out of the first dungeon in Nintendo's fantasy classic.

As an extension of your father that looks like a mobile stump, you must trot and spring through an assortment of generic stages, gathering magical apples and teardrop-shaped artifacts that you place in three cups at the end of each stage. When you do this in each of the mandatory levels, the game abruptly ends and your father tells you that you did a good job. Then you can keep playing if you want, to collect more of the apples and make sure you've cleared every goal the game has to offer. Except there's no apparent system in place to track anything except your overall apple total. I finished with 1060 of them after playing through each stage once, but I can't tell you if that's the lot of them or not. The total seems to keep climbing if you revisit stages you've already cleared and grab more of the same apples.

Woodle Tree Adventures (Switch) image

In one of the stages, I was wandering around and I happened to notice an apple positioned on the side of a sheer rock cliff. There was no way to reach it but to fall from the precise right point overhead and cling to the wall as I plummeted to my doom, but I was determined to grab it anyway in case it worked toward some hidden value. As far as I can tell, it did not. I'm not even sure the developer knows it is there. I think he was probably just clicking to add apples in a level editor and his hand twitched. Then he either didn't notice the apple was placed or he decided he didn't care. At least, that's my theory, because Woodle Tree Adventures is that kind of game.

When you first start playing, there's the vague suggestion that if you find all the apples, you'll access an additional level. I'm not entirely sure that notion wasn't subsequently abandoned or revised. At 500 apples gathered, when I was less than halfway through the game, a bonus stage appeared near the exterior edge of the level hub and I played through it. There were more apples than usual and it had the only musical composition playing in the background that I actively appreciated in the whole game (a jaunty selection, rather than the melancholy norm), but otherwise I'm not sure what the point was.

The game also doesn't make this point clear, but gathering apples eventually allows you to grab leaf power-ups. These allow you to blow gusts of wind, so that you can knock out enemies from afar. Otherwise, you're stuck swatting at them up close and are more likely to get knocked out yourself. I didn't discover the power-ups even existed and could be activated by jumping through the leaf symbols resting on a series of stumps outside my hut until I had cleared every standard stage. For that matter, I didn't realize I could run until around that same point, because the game takes a "don't tell the player much of anything" approach that seems like a poor match for its apparent target audience: people much younger than myself.

Woodle Tree Adventures (Switch) image

You might suppose that a game built for an audience that skews juvenile would be fairly easy, and Woodle Tree Adventures is supposed to be, I think. The problem is that the jumping mechanic and movement feel too sluggish. Your character just sort of glides across the surface while his legs move up and down in an animation that is no doubt intended to approximate walking. It doesn't feel like he's really connected to the land he is hoping to save, which takes some getting used to. Then he has to make precise jumps to platforms, or sometimes he has to leap out over a vertical column of wind and let it carry him to greater heights so he can keep exploring. The problem is that a shadow isn't always available to serve as guidance, so sometimes I had to guess where the wind was supposed to be positioned so I could keep going. Sometimes, I guessed wrong.

Guessing wrong wouldn't be a huge problem, since the player is provided unlimited lives, except the checkpoint system is broken. Actual checkpoints don't seem to be all that numerous anyway, but sometimes they forget you cleared them. The apples and water drops you may have gathered are blessedly still yours to cherish. But if you fall from a high point after passing a point from which you might typically respawn, the game decides you must want to start over from the beginning of the stage. Deaths by fall are the most common, so this happens frequently.

Woodle Tree Adventures (Switch) image

One other reason deaths from great heights are so common is that the camera flat out sucks. There's no option to rotate left or right for a better vantage point. You can simply zoom in and out. This capability actually is useful on some occasions, as it lets you see if you have missed gathering any apples and sometimes gives you a better view of a series of ledges you need to traverse. But in other cases, it might get stuck and then you can't see anything. You just have to hop around and hope you break free or at least manage to die so you can resume from a checkpoint. Occasionally, you'll run into an enemy you didn't even know existed, just because you couldn't swing your perspective around. Elsewhere, the view will suddenly adjust while you are running, which can be disorienting for a moment.

Woodle Tree Adventures is not the sort of game where you reach the end credits and say "Wow, I never would have guessed this was made almost entirely by one person!" It's also not a complete and utter train wreck, though it avoids that distinction by a margin just wide enough to steer clear of the lowest rating I can award it. Whether you are looking to buy a game for yourself or a child, we now live in a game-rich world where there are surely numerous better values for your money if you are simply willing to look for them.

1/5

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 04, 2018)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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Follow_Freeman posted November 09, 2018:

Oh, look, another Unity game ported to the Switch. You may find it interesting to compare this game with some footage of the Steam version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk7WhD7C3KA

But if you really want to hurt... I mean, really hurt... why don't you give Vroom in the Night Sky a chance? You won't be left with enough cognitive functions to regret it!
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honestgamer posted November 09, 2018:

Incredibly, I don't really want to hurt. I play games I expect on some level to enjoy. That doesn't mean I won't ever play Vroom in the Night Sky, but I'm not going to seek it out in hopes of having a miserable time. ;-)
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Follow_Freeman posted November 09, 2018:

Well, I think it would fit right in with your reviews of this and Kitty Squad, but if you'd like something that doesn't hurt, you could give Celeste a try. I've heard only good things, and it's by the devs of Towerfall (which rules), so I think it would be a worthy addition to your Switch library.

Oh, right, this review. Gets a lot of mileage off a relatively bare topic, plus it had some puns, so it's good in my book. More importantly, it emphasizes the importance of clarity of objective; we're weary of the awful design that is hand-holding, but a game must also bother to communicate to the player the significance and effect of his actions. The discourse on "game feel" and camera -- again, methods of communicating to the player the nature of his actions -- made for worthwhile reading, too.
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Masters posted November 09, 2018:

Sorry, Jason, I haven't read this review of yours yet, but I had to chime in to say that Celeste is fucking awesome. However, it is hard as hell, and that might severely diminish any love you specifically might have for it.
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honestgamer posted November 09, 2018:

Yeah, I've heard tell of its brutal difficulty and that's one reason it hasn't already found its way to my collection, despite the accolades it generally receives. I can play brutally difficult games. I can even beat them. But I don't particularly enjoy the process unless I'm in a particular mood that seldom strikes. So we'll see if I ever wind up with Celeste...

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