Dashing through the woods
With a sword held (if you can call it that) in her hand
Through the caves and trees we go
Swinging all the way!
In TripleVision’s adventurous new Metroidvania, Mable and the Wood, you’ll play as Mable, the fun-loving, sword-swinging, web-flinging, Medusa-turning little girl who drops out of the sky to kick butt, and be back for nap time. Her weapon of choice is a far-too-big sword, (sword regulations are lacking in the Wood, it seems) which you will have to lug through all different types of terrain from woods,to caves, castles, churches, swamps, and even a large boat. You can explore every inch of this sprawling world, or – not, rapidly switching form to form to foil enemies and bosses, get around traps, circumvent jumping puzzles, and dazzle knights and cultists alike. In Mable, if you’re a fan games like Undertale, Hollow Knight, Child of Light, even Celeste or Dishonored, you may find yourself right at home, and as an avid fan of all of those games, I had to check it out.
If you’re a fan games like Undertale, Hollow Knight, Child of Light, even Celeste or Dishonored, you may find yourself right at home.
We start out in the Wood of the title, plopping down right into the middle of some-such ritual performed by some-such cultists. All of a sudden, they’re hailing you as the “Bringer of Dawn” come to save them from the horrible beasts afflicting them, which you may find quite silly when you see the actual “beasts” you’re after. After a humorous encounter with some of the cultists (classic cult banter) you’re off exploring the Wood with your trusty sword, that probably is a 2-1 weight ratio when stacked up against Mable herself, and are greeted by the whimsical tunes of Fat Bard Music.
The sound design and music were completely in the hands of Fat Bard for Mable and for the most part, they did an excellent job. In one sense, in my play-through, they fulfilled what probably every music studio should have as at least one of their goals: nostalgia. In the forest area of the game, they were able to fully capture the sound of a mysterious, sprawling wood, and when I came back to it after a long stint in the caves, I was elated. This actually goes for the feeling they evoke in most of their music throughout the game, from the caves to the swamp.
They fulfilled what probably every music studio should have as at least one of their goals: nostalgia.
Their ability to paint a picture with their music is fully on display in this game. The only issue is that it’s pretty repetitive. After the caves especially, I found myself longing for some diversity. They don’t really change it at all between the separate areas of the game, and without much else in terms of sound design (No fun dialogue box sounds or satisfying clicking sounds! I miss you, Megaman Legends, come back to me) things get real old after an hour or so. It’s similar to finding a new favorite song and playing it over and over: it’s good, but that’s a quick way to find another new favorite. And unfortunately, there’s not a lot in the story to keep you pushing ever on, either.
In terms of story, Mable and the Wood functions in a similar, but distinct, manner to the classic Dark Souls, or the newer Hollow Knight. You can’t completely miss what’s going on at the surface, but you don’t have to delve much deeper. For example, in my first play I had no idea that I had a mother and father that play a part in this game! On my second, however, I found that out about fifteen minutes in.
In Mable and the Wood, you can skip around, take shortcuts and alternate routes, and completely miss sections of the story that are not only interesting, but crucial to understanding the plot. In a game like Dark Souls, this works, as the designers are consistent in their choice to not spoon feed you the narrative. But choosing to feed you some directly and have you hunt for the rest is an odd spot to put the player in. Theoretically, you could play all the way through this rather story driven game, and miss enough of the story to be left confused and maybe a little frustrated.
One particularly frustrating gap, if you start off knowing little to nothing about the game, is an encounter with an old woman who introduces, for the first time, a moral element to slaying all these fuzzy creatures. I actually missed this cutscene. The game includes multiple endings, as it turns out, and killing enemies results in the less favourable one. Which, being the savage hunter I am (and deemed Mable to be), I achieved with gusto, but without ever knowing I was even making decisions.
Despite all that, however, I still found what parts of the story I encountered to be thoroughly enjoyable, though I wish I had found all of it. In essence, you find yourself tied to cultists that believe their forest is under attack from monsters, and positioned against (we think?) some knights that don’t really care for the cultists. The story develops, and the relationship gets more complicated, but when you first step up to the plate and into the game, this is what you’re handed. I just wish there was a bit more.
Speaking of stepping… As Mable, movement is… challenging. That’s a big sword, and a little girl, and in her human form, she certainly moves like you’d think a twelve year old girl with a broadsword would. So, like any little girl with a big sword, Mable simply drops her sword, transforms into a fairy real quick, and soars away!
(As an aside, when it comes to lugging your sword, the devs recommend going the controller route. I tried this for some time. It was not a good time. I would highly recommend using the mouse and keyboard, as it allows for quick, snappy jumps, and much more successful, less complicated aiming, which, in this game is crucial to having a good, enjoyable, not stressful or fist-through-monitor-inducing time.)
However, this middle-school dream is on a limited time. Mable has a yellow magic bar (functioning much like a stamina bar in many games) that indicates the duration that she can use her powers. It’s pretty short, at least, at first. This produces some interesting jumping puzzles, and they only get more interesting as your abilities increase.
I would highly recommend using the mouse and keyboard, as it allows for quick, snappy jumps, and much more successful, less complicated aiming.
This is also how combat is done in the game, and it’s fairly unique. To fight in her fairy form, Mable has to dance around her enemies attempting to land them between her and her blade, only to recall it back to herself and slice right through the little critters. With the introduction of the new forms, however, unlike the new options in traversing your environment adding some spice to the game, you’ll likely find it has the opposite effect on combat. For example, when you get your spider form, all you have to do is point and shoot your sword. In your stone golem form, you just click and you’ll fly forward as a statue right through your enemies.
In the boss fights, this drastic change is the most pronounced – your first fight will probably be your hardest! Flying around these hulking but surprisingly mobile bosses with a tiny little magic bar is no small feat. Later on, however, for the flying bosses, you can mash your spider form attack, and for the grounded ones, simply spamming the stone form will take them out in seconds.
While Mable can only turn into a fairy at first, throughout the game you can acquire a slew of other powers that enhance movement in various ways. This allows for many different options when you come to these jumping puzzles, with some just adding a straight up cheese mechanic, and some requiring some measure of skill and precision to execute. Unfortunately, some of these movement-enhancing mechanics can be quite buggy. The Ghost form for example, which allows you to dash forward in high-speed flight, left me stranded in environment blocks more times than you’d probably think, only to either restart at the checkpoint, or be pushed out into dangerous territory.
While being pushed into said dangerous territory, or being sent back to a checkpoint after a grueling trek was horrifically obnoxious at times, it did not stop me from enjoying Mable and the Wood. The game has its share of bugs, but its playful and interesting ways to engage enemies, jumping puzzles, and dungeons as a whole, kept me playing. The gameplay ranges from trivially easy, especially in the beginning, to quite difficult towards the end. In the end, though, Mable and the Wood was quite enjoyable. The music, the (somewhat elusive) story and relationships, and the pixel-art graphics give it a charm that’s quite appealing, and with multiple endings, different cut-scenes, and different ways to play, I may just find myself back in the Wood. Maybe after a little patching here and there, though…
Yes, if you:
- Enjoy Metroidvanias, especially with some unique platforming
- Appreciate whimsical, fun adventure games
- Are looking for a twist in terms of combat
- Like games that give you some freedom with decisions
No, if you:
- Don’t want to put up with a game with some glitches here and there
- Like a consistent, deep story
- Enjoy an appropriate challenge
- Like to fully utilize all of the abilities a game gives you
Mable and the Wood released August 23rd, 2019 on PC, with later releases for Xbox One on September 18th, and Nintendo Switch on October 10th.
Note: Cannonicity received a copy of Mable and the Wood in exchange for a fair and honest review.