Review: Mable & The Wood (Switch)

This wood deserves the axe.

By Andy Hoover. Posted 10/10/2019 03:15 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Some original, well-executed new gameplay ideas; nice art style; good soundtrack
Poison Mushroom for...
Poor level design in larger areas; underutilized mechanics; consistent technical issues including slow down and crashes; possible to get stuck in areas that make it impossible to complete the game

Mable & The Wood was made by Triplevision Games, which happens to be a one-man studio. I try not to consider these sorts of facts though, because one could argue that one should cut such games a little slack since making a game is difficult enough with a team of hundreds. But, then again, this is a product being sold for real world money and with that there are certain expectations. Mable & The Wood does not meet those expectations despite presenting a number of very appealing ideas.

In the game, you assume the role of a young, shape-shifting girl summoned forth by a cult apparently trying to bring forward a savior to a doomed world. Yes, this concept sounds serious and epic, but the game clearly shows its more humorous approach right off the bat as the cult expresses their doubt and disappointment as they see their hero is a little girl who can barely lift a sword and can only turn into an even smaller fairy. Dialogue isn’t all that common throughout the largely solitary journey, but when other characters show up, they are generally worth a chuckle.

The hero’s small stature is key to the best gameplay concept in Mable & The Wood. In your human form, you move very slowly, dragging your sword behind you, but by transforming into a fairy you can freely fly around for a limited time based on an upgradeable magic gauge. With a press of a button, you can summon your blade back to you, thus returning you to your original shape and sending you falling back to earth if you are still airborne. This makes for a welcome change of pace compared to the standard platform fare of running and jumping, plus it makes for interesting combat as your only real attack in this form is placing your foes between you and your sword as you summon it back to you. Altogether, it’s a very clever mechanic that feels good and proves quite fun when the game is going smoothly.

Of course, you gain a number of other abilities as you defeat the major bosses who serve as the punctuation mark at the end of each area. Beating the giant spider at the end of the first forest grants you a spider form, a rock monster allows you to turn into a rock, a mole into a mole, and so on. The spider is probably the most useful, as the string you shoot is a projectile weapon and your ability to swing and climb along those strings also presents another unique approach to platforming. Sadly, the controls don’t feel quite as well-executed. The other forms are decent enough, but they feel much more situational and underutilized. Ultimately, you’ll probably spend most of your time using the fairy form simply because it feels so much better and ultimately proves infinitely more useful for the vast majority of the game.

But then the game starts to crumble. When the game is at its most linear, it’s actually pretty good because you get to focus on a clearly defined path constantly pushing you forward using the mechanics in a fun manner. However, the game occasionally moves into more open, mini-Metroidvania style areas that just ruin the game’s flow with horrible, uninspired level design. In a linear platformer, insta-kill obstacles and bottomless pits are fine as you are pushed back to the start of that particular challenge thanks to the frequent checkpoints. In these dungeon-esque areas, this design doesn’t work, as you have to freely explore but then are punished with hard to avoid obstacles that instantly kill you and cost you much more time. Furthermore, in these areas the checkpoints feel much more haphazard.

The visual design of these areas is also a major issue. While each dungeon has a unique look, that look never really changes from room to room, meaning that there are very few memorable landmarks and the in-game maps you can find are only mildly useful thanks to the idea not to actually show where you are on it. Between the uninteresting design and unhelpful design, combined with the aforementioned poorly conceived checkpoints and obstacles, it all makes exploring these areas incredibly frustrating. However, worst of all is the presence of one area that I’m confident you can become utterly, helplessly stuck in. Given the design of these areas, you might feel the need to backtrack and this isn’t well planned, as some environmental triggers don’t seem to trigger when approached from some directions, and then if you go back down to one area after riding an elevator up, you will be stuck because that elevator is the only way onward and it doesn’t reset. Having to restart the whole game after having already grown frustrated with it is not a particularly good feeling.

The visual design syncs up with the good and bad of the game design almost perfectly. Often, the linear sections look quite good with lots of pixelated details that give each area a unique look and feel. The general animations are also very good and the enemy designs are even tweaked a little bit, with some monsters wearing Santa hats in the snowy mountains or mining helmets in caves. But, when you get to those damnable dungeons everything just looks bleak, barren and awfully uninteresting.

Musically, Mable & The Wood can finally claim an unqualified win. The soundtrack is very good, with an appropriately whimsical and atmospheric style to match the story and various settings. I wouldn’t say any one tune is a timeless classic or even particularly memorable, but when so much was proving incredibly frustrating, the music at least helped keep me from outright hating the game.

Lastly, I feel the review would not be complete without mentioning the technical issues plaguing the game. Most of the time, the game runs relatively smoothly; small chugs and slow down pop up relatively frequently but are generally not a major issue. However, there are certain areas where the game turns into a slide show for no apparent reason. Certain areas, despite not really being any more visually complex or containing a lot of action, dip into what looks like single digit frames per second for extended periods of time. It’s utterly baffling, as are the surprisingly long load times that occasionally had me wondering if the game froze. This was not an entirely unreasonable assumption as the game did crash on me with a bizarre error message that I had never seen before on Switch.

Unfinished perhaps proves the best word to ultimately describe Mable & The Wood. These technical problems just mentioned definitely contribute to this description, but the general feel of much of the game is an issue as well. The core mechanic of transforming into a fairy and summoning your sword is fantastic and feels wonderful, and when you are put in a linear platforming challenge it works great. However, the other mechanics just don’t feel as good and are poorly utilized, and then when the game opens up into larger areas, everything just feels very poorly conceived with poor layouts, random checkpoint placement, and frustrating one-hit kill obstacles. It legitimately feels like the developer created a good linear game based off a solid mechanic, and then tried to throw in some Metroidvania elements at the last minute but didn’t really know what they were doing and, as they were trying to rush the game out the door, forgot to do sufficient QA testing. In other words, Mable & The Wood feels unfinished.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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