I’m always going to take interest in 2D platforming adventures, so naturally Mable & The Wood caught my eye immediately. The fact that it promises players the chance to hunt down giant beasts and then shift into their forms caught my eye too, as well as the fact that you don’t actually have to kill ANY enemies during your playthrough. It’s a neat premise and one that the game does manage to pull off… sometimes.
Mable & The Wood takes place in a dying world, where the only person who can save it is a young girl that was resurrected by a mysterious cult. You just so happen to be that girl, and the way that you save the world is by following a ‘prophecy’ and slaying the great beasts that are found across the world. Or, you could just let them live and see what happens – not all prophecies are correct, right?
The unique feature of Mable & The Wood is the giant sword you carry. Ok, sure, big swords in video games aren’t exactly unique, but what about big swords that the protagonist isn’t even strong enough to swing? One thing you can do is magically pull the sword towards you though, with it acting almost like a boomerang that comes your way and wipes out anything in its path. There’s a line put in place that shows the direction that the sword will fly in too, so you’re able to see where exactly it’ll go and what it will damage on the way. It’s a peculiar system, sure, but it gives the game its own unique flavour that helps it stand out. The only real flaw came with combat, where it isn’t always easy to line up the sword to take out your enemies properly – it can just feel a little fiddly in-game and means it is often easy to just avoid combat altogether.
Of course, in a similar fashion to Undertale, players can go through Mable & The Wood without actually killing anyone. We all want to be pacifists sometimes, right? It gives players the chance to try and be clever when taking down the aforementioned great beasts, whilst it’ll also encourage you to bypass the enemies (which, as mentioned, can be easier). Doing so will also reward you with an alternative ending which gives players the incentive to play through the game more than once. It’s a novel idea that’s executed quite well, though you should be warned: whilst it is difficult to line up attacks to kill enemies, it can also be difficult not to accidentally kill enemies too. There were a few occasions where I accidentally killed something during my pacifist playthrough just because they got in the way when I was trying to get around, and boy, it was frustrating. Sometimes, you just can’t win.
Whether you decide to kill the great beasts or spare them, your reward is the ability to shapeshift into their form – this in turn gives you new abilities which can help you traverse the environment. You’ll be able to transform into the likes of a spider, a mole, and even medusa. Take on the form of a spider? Expect to be able to swing around with your sword on your web. A mole? You’ll be digging around and travelling underground. Medusa? You turn enemies into stone and then get to use their frozen bodies as platforms to get around. You can’t just use these abilities willy-nilly though, with your power meter decreasing when you’re in any form other than human. All it takes is a quick change back in order to build it back up again though, but you will have to time this carefully if you don’t want to get yourself caught out by the many hazards littered around the world. Nothing worse than falling to your demise when you’re trying to swing around as a spider…
The world itself is pretty open in design, with Mable & The Wood adopting a Metroidvania-style approach where you’re free to explore but certain areas are blocked off until you have specific abilities. It’ll be familiar to anyone who has played this type of game before and it it’s neat to explore the world, but I couldn’t help but to think that it might’ve been a bit better if it was more linear in design. It’s not that exploring in the game is bad by any means, but rather that there are too few checkpoints and too many ways for you to die. There are one-hit kills aplenty across the world’s hazards, and hitting them, getting sent back to a checkpoint, and having to do all of the exploration again was just annoying.
Whilst Mable & The Wood’s gameplay isn’t perfect, I do have a lot of love for its visuals. The game adopts a simple aesthetic that isn’t overly detailed, but sometimes less is more; there are plenty of impressive vistas to see as you travel across the desolate world and I often found myself in awe of the sights around me. It’s just a pretty little game.
Mable & The Wood has some clever ideas on show that help it stand out as a unique title, but their execution aren’t always on the ball. Leaping around with your sword following you is neat, but not having full control of what the sword will hit can be frustrating. The world itself is very pretty in design too, but it has too many hazards and not enough checkpoints to make it fun to explore. For everything Mable & The Wood does right, it also does something that will frustrate you.
Still, it’s a game that’s worth checking out if you want to play a Metroidvania-style title that does something a little different – regardless of its flaws. Mable & The Wood is FAR from perfect, but there’s no denying that it has a lot of heart.
Developer: Triplevision Games
Publisher: Graffiti Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC