Gias Games: Woodle Tree Adventures

What? Five posts in six days? While this is certainly a record for publishing frequency on the Care and Feeding of Nerds, this may also be something of a peek into the future for this little blog. I'll hopefully be able to share exactly what that means before the year is out but, for now, we can enjoy this review by a new guest author. (Unrelated reminder: you have a little less than 24 hour to enter in our Thrash-Car giveaway!)

The following is the work of my friend Elder Gias. He's currently in the midst of slogging through a backlog in his Steam library and has decided to chronicle the pleasant surprises, misadventures, and occasional WTF-ery of this odyssey. Speaking of the latter, he begins with Woodle Tree Adventures, a 3D platformer by indie developer Fabio Ferrara that was recently featured in the Humble Flash Bundle. 
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When I think of setting precedent, I think of Brown v. Board of Education, Citizen Kane,  Goldeneye 64, and now Woodle Tree Adventures.  Before playing this game I thought I had played horrible games on Steam, but this game has given me the unique experience of having to reset my frame of reference for bad games.  This is currently the worst game I have played on Steam.

First let me tell you the few good things about this game.  It has a cute art-style that works for an old school platformer.  It has cute music that matches the visual aesthetic.  It also lets you zoom out on the levels more than any other platformer I have ever played.

Now for the rest of the experience:  When you make a 2D platformer, there is no need to worry about camera angles.  When you make a 3D platformer, camera angles are one of the things you need to worry about the most.  The creators of this game seem to have some Memento style memory loss going on where they constantly forget how to deal with camera angles.  They do show that they are able to switch angles based on where you move, as there are locations where when you round a corner the camera moves to let you see the new location you moved to.  This happens a total of one time in the game.  The rest of the time, the camera will let your character be hidden by anything and everything in the environment.  Additionally, your character will be hidden by the bag he carries many times. 

Normally this and the other camera issues would not be game breaking except, that since this is a 3D platformer with edges that let you fall to your death, proper character location is extremely important.  You will find yourself dying 90% of the time due to poor camera movement.

Speaking of the terrible camera, did the creator have a seizure while coding the camera?  In the second level, I died later in the level and respawned back at the beginning.  However, the camera had rotated 180 degrees such that I was viewing my character from what had previously been his back. This gave me the unique displeasure of having to try to control the character while he was completely obfuscated  by the landscape of the game.
It is a pretty landscape though
To add to the thoughtlessness of the creator, one cannot go back to the level select main menu.  You either have to beat a level or exit the game and restart it.  So to get out of the camera issue described above I had to shut the game down.  I wish I had stopped playing at that point, however I am an addict.  I admit, I have a problem, I am addicted to achievements and being a completionist with my game library, so I continued playing. The terrible camera means that many routine platform jumps are almost a total gamble.  You don't know how far on the Z axis you are, so who knows if you will land on the platform?  The best you can do is watch your character's shadow, but that is not nearly enough.

There are a few sections where you play underwater and you move so excruciatingly slow.  Civilizations rose and fell in the time it took me to complete the underwater sections of this game.  When I checked the clock, apparently there was some temporal anomaly occurring with this game because it took me one hour to finish despite the Eons it felt.  Another 30 min of game play got me the remaining achievements for the game.  I only had to do some key rebinding to get the multiplayer achievement rather than subject anyone I have positive feelings for to a game that is the digital equivalent of a punch to the crotch.

Speaking of key binding, apparently the Xbox 360 controller is the “optimal” way to play this game.  The number of times where the jump button would not respond to presses implies that keyboard and mouse of the game would be the equivalent of being a passenger on the Hindenburg’s final flight.  Getting beaten in the face with a 2-by-4 is my preferred method of mutilation when the alternative is getting hit in the face by a dire-flail.  That does not mean the preferred the method is good, just that the alternative is much MUCH worse.

Though you do have a choice of control input, there is no choice given in how inept your character is at the basic action of movement.  A normal game would have your character move when you input movement and have your character stop when you stop inputting movement.  The creator of this game apparently chose to become the Jackson Pollock of the gaming world and turn gaming on its head by showing you a new way to control your character, a much shittier way!  You move when you input movement, and you keep moving when you stop inputting movement.  For a 3D platformer this is a revolutionary idea!  No one has tried it to this extent before, we are truly seeing game development pioneering in how bad development decisions can be made.  When you are already dealing with a game whose camera is worse than Silent Hill 2 (one of the best games ever, by the way), with a jump button that works as well as Lou Gehrig’s muscles, you don’t need your character to move independent of your controls to show you that the developer hates you and loathes gamers in general.  You cannot fine tune your movements and jumps when you continue to walk several body lengths after you stop inputting movement.  This is most noticeable in areas where the ledges are only two body widths wide and you land in the direct center of the ledge.  If you don’t continue jumping you will die again and again because you cannot stop moving.

These continued deaths could have been mitigated to a degree if the checkpoint system of the game worked in any sort of appreciable way.  I know there are checkpoints because when you die there are certain places that you teleport back to, however, almost every time this happens you are then teleported again back to the start of the level.  Only twice in my playing did it leave me to continue playing from the apparent checkpoint. There is no conceivable way that the game’s creator beat this game without dying due to the control and camera implementation done by Helen Keller Industries.  As such, he should have noticed that they were teleported back to a checkpoint then back from the checkpoint to the start of the level.  I am guessing at this point he just threw his hands up and said “What the hell ever.  Let’s see if someone buys it”.  Thankfully, I only have this game because it was free on Indie Gala at one point.  I am a very frugal person and love getting games for cheap or even free but getting this game, even free, is the closest I have ever come to saying it was a mistake to get a free game.  There is no reason to buy this game.  If you get this game for free, there is no reason to play it unless you are an obsessive completionist, in which case, I feel your pain, get ready for an hour and a half of the video game equivalent of an iron maiden.

This game only has one play-through.  There are no save slots and the game auto-saves.  There is no way to reset the game to start over for someone else to play the game.  However, this not a huge complaint since if you are allowing someone else to play this game after you have played it then you are a bad person.

To further question the sanity of the programmer of this game, some levels have enemies below the entire level just sitting in inaccessible boxes below the ground.  This does not appear to be an aesthetic design choice, but looks more akin to programming errors that the game creator could not figure out how to fix.  It is as though he put in too many enemies to the level and could not figure out how to delete the extra enemies and instead just boxed them up in an inaccessible location.  Given how well everything else was put together, there are no surprises here.

Lastly, it is odd to say this, but thankfully the creators are really bad at adding your points in your total tally.  This leads to you getting way more points per level then you should, at least in the unlockable 600 point level.  If it had not been for this horrible coding of the points, I would have had to play the game even longer to get all the achievements.

If this game had been developed as a student’s art or programming project, I would say that they did a great job.  However, there is no legitimate argument for this game being sold to the masses.  The aforementioned issues should have EASILY been caught by any sort of beta testing by the game creator.  On the developer’s website there are a few quotes about the game from Indie Game websites.  The developers want me to believe that someone said “Woodle Tree is the Hotline Miami of the 3-D platformer.”  I wish that were true, then someone would have shot my character in the face and ended the torture.

At $2.99 on Steam this game is a steal.  And by that I mean the developer is stealing your money to fund another experiment into how best to maim gaming experiences further.  That cost equates to $2 per hour of excruciating play.  There are 8 achievements which thankfully do not take long to get.  The game also supports Steam Trading cards and gives you 3 of the six drops for playing.  However, even as a free game with free card drops I would feel dirty having the badge for this game on my profile.   The game also supports local Co-op game-play which I expect to be featured in the next installation of the Saw franchise.

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