By Jakeums / November 25th, 2019
|Title||Mable and the Wood|
|Release Date||October 10th, 2019|
|Genre||Metroidvania, Side-scroller, Platform|
|Platform||Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, Mac|
If there’s anything that the past couple games I’ve reviewed have taught me, it’s that the side-scroller is alive and well, and is represented in a large variety of flavors. While I have my preferences, it’s quite refreshing to see how vast the opportunities are to create your own mark on 2D side-scrollers. Some of them take a more modern approach, with 3D graphics and 2.5D styles of gameplay, but here we have a case of sticking to what works within the genre, but at the same time delivering a bit of a twist to the formula. That might sound convoluted, but that’s truthfully the best way I can describe Mable and the Woods.
You are Mable, an entity resurrected by a cult that informs you that you’re the result of an ancient prophecy. You are the Bringer of Dawn, someone who will lead them from the darkness. To do that you must kill the Great Beasts. But within their defeat also yields the ability to take their form. You set forth to fulfill this prophecy and uncover some revelations along the way. Mable doesn’t really pride itself on the story front, as it’s more of a method to get you going on your boss-slaying way rather than craft an intricately woven narrative. This game is more focused on the way you play.
Gameplay is specifically where Mable stands out, as it’s quite unique. I can faithfully say I’ve never played anything like it. You play as the titular Mable, who is able to shapeshift. At first you’re limited to only having the selection of transforming into a fairy, which allows you to throw your sword and utilize that point of impact as a sort of hookshot appliance. The amount of energy it takes to carry you from one spot to another is monitored by a magic meter, which is one of the few things I found cumbersome in the controls. While you do get used to its unique way of movement, the magic bar never feels like it has enough juice in it to go where you feel like you should be able to, effectively making you tumble here and there accidentally. It’s a small thing, but it adds onto the controls you’re adapting to. Thankfully the game alleviates this by having a shop around, allowing you to purchase potions for health and magic for diamonds.
Your method of attacking the enemies placed in your path is also quite unique to me. When you throw your sword and it lands where you want it to land, you get a line of distance between you and the blade. You get enemies to cross that line and then bring the sword back to you, like a lightsaber, and the sword slices and dices through the foes. It might sound overly complicated, and in part it is, but it’s something that seems like more of a learning curve than it really is. It’s like riding a bike in a way, where once you get it you get it. However, Mable does have a pacifist path, where you don’t have to hurt any bad guys or defeat any of the bosses. But that more than likely requires precision the likes of which I don’t have.
Which then leads into Mable’s main selling point: your unique ability to take on the form of a foe you’ve vanquished. For example, the first boss you’ll come across is Queen of the Wood, a giant spider that hops around and just generally creates quite a nuisance for you. You do battle with her, turning into your fairy form and tricking the Queen into crossing the path of your blade. After a couple hits she goes into hyper mode and starts moving more quickly and jumps more rapidly. Eventually you’ll persevere, and upon the Queen’s defeat, you gain the ability to transform into a Mable version of a spider, gaining a new ability. Hers specifically augments your sword toss and turns it into a spider string, in which you can utilize the momentum of your ascension to help you get across larger gaps in the worlds. Consequently, every time you defeat one of the game’s bosses, you get new abilities from them as well. These bosses range from quantum pilgrims and reclusive kings, to stone golems and giant hawks. These give you different forms, like turning to stone and smashing through stuff or becoming a wisp that allows you to hover from one platform to another.
Leading from the controls, the way the art is stylized looks very nice. Everything is vivid and clear when it needs to be, dark and drab in more dilapidated areas, animated well enough and all flows together quite nicely. The world is filled with nice little details as Mable crosses their path, such as how her running affects the wave of the flowers or the movement of fireflies. Plenty of small, subtle details to add onto a grandly charming art style. The music is also on point here. While there are no grand epic movements outside bosses and nothing I could hum off of memory, every tune fits well with the world and helps add to the ambiance and the mysticism of it all.
In the grand scheme of things, I’d say a majority of what is going to determine your enjoyment of this is really dependent on how willing you are to get used to its style of control, as there were even times when I was KO’ing myself on really obvious spike pits and such. However, each of those deaths I take accountability for and recognize it could just be how I played. I did play sometimes with a friend watching and that made for a good time. Mable does offer two endings to its story, a bad ending and a good one. I assume I got the former, as it was a much more sober ending to an otherwise fantastical game.
I greatly look forward to speedruns of this title, as with its unique method of control and ability to skip bosses and enemies, the strategies runners will devise to get a good time in this will be interesting. It took me around two hours to complete a run, but with subsequent playthroughs, I’m sure someone will cook up something more impressive. Ultimately, I’d say the $15 Mable asks for could be trimmed to something a little slimmer for what one playthrough would provide, but for those who are interested in these kinds of “multiple run” games, I can totally see them being fine with the $15 price point. Mable takes a unique look at a kind of boss rush genre, and provides enough to make it differentiate itself from the rest.
Review copy provided by publisher, thank you!
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