IMPRESSIONS: Family Tree

Monday, October 14th, 2019

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At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to tackle Family Tree. Published by eastasiasoft and developed by Infinite State Games (known for such games as Don’t Die, Mr. Robot! and Rogue Aces), Family Tree is very distinct from those earlier titles. Instead of being an arcade inspired avoid-em-up or a 2D air combat game, this one is a strange mix of platformer and pinball. In a huge way, Family Tree reminds me of a mix of mechanics from Bust-a-Move and Yoshi’s Island. The question is whether I enjoyed my time with the game or not.

Family Tree | Intro

Since this isn’t a full fledged review, I’m not gonna spend an exhaustive amount of time explaining things. For one thing, there’s not much to explain. The story, if you want to call it that, revolves around some demented sugar skull named Pedro kidnapping the children of Mr. and Mrs. Fruit, turning them into actual fruit, and disappearing into an otherworldly portal. I can’t tell you why this Dia de Los Muertos inspired villain decided to menace these nice folks, nor why he bothered turning the Fruit children into literal fruit. Thankfully, this isn’t a game where that’s too important. Family Tree is all about careful platforming, mixed with some lite pinball mechanics. You control Mr. Fruit, who looks like a distant tropical relative of Wiggler from the Mario series. Key difference being, he’s just a head (at first). But by corralling your lost children in each stage, they’ll gather behind you, creating a massive multicolored worm chain of glory. While it’s not too hard to beat each stage, which can be beaten in around less than 5 minutes, there are factors that keep you on your toes.

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Each of the initial 128 stages takes place in a hollowed out tree trunk. Or I assume it is, since otherwise it’d be hard to jump around inside it. You start at the bottom and work your way up to the top (in most stages), where you’ll greet a loving Mrs. Fruit with the children you collected. But it’s not just a matter of jumping from point A to point B. There’s lots of obstacles in your way. These start out pretty basic, such as bumpers, cannons and some annoying enemies. The farther you get, the more complex the hazards, such as glass dividers you can’t break through, floating block-like enemies that can only be safely bopped from above and my true nemesis, nut throwing purple squirrels. All you can do is move, aim and launch Mr. Fruit in the direction you want. It took some getting used to, but the controls actually work pretty well. Mostly I didn’t love using the bumpers to move him left and right, but using the joystick to aim him like a Yoshi egg and then firing him was pretty intuitive. For the most part, Family Tree flows quite well, and I would find myself racing through stage after stage in spurts. The problem came when I realized how huge the game is.

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Now, 128 stages might not sound so bad, but it’s really an almost prohibitively large number. Especially when you factor in there are an additional 128 more Mirror stages you unlock once you’ve beaten the first batch. The problems then come from a couple things. The game is broken up into Years and Seasons. There are 4 Seasons in each Year, and each one has 8 main stages. At the end of each Season, you have to race Pedro to the next one. These chase sequences are formatted differently. They’re horizontal instead of vertical, and there’s a ton of empty space that leads you to a quick death. It’d be one thing if that was all, but many of them are also full of enemies that will knock you off track and into a bottomless pit. It’s beyond frustrating you can’t skip these sequences. At first I thought they might be an optional bonus stage that rewards you if you win, but they’re not. You have to beat each one, and when you factor in they happen at the end of each Season of the 128 stages, that means there’s also an additional 16 of them. And that’s just the first time around. Then you have to get through the Mirror stages, and that means more challenge for less incentive. I wouldn’t mind this so much, except that I discovered from the developers you can’t unlock the shop to buy helpful upgrades until you’ve beaten all 256 states. I’m of the mind optional upgrades should be something you can use from the very beginning, and gradually acquire funds to get more goodies as you play. Locking them away at the very end of the main mode just feels like a horrible design flaw. Especially since it meant I couldn’t get things like increased fruit magnetism and extended jump ability.

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Family Tree also has an Endless Mode, where you can play until you drop. Or if you’re a completionist, you can replay stages over and over again to get a perfect score and collect all the gold coins in each stage. And if you are a real stickler, there’s also a bunch of achievements to acquire. That’s all well and good, but when the basic mechanics are so simple and the game keeps stacking on stages without substantial challenge or new features to keep things fresh, it’s hard to stay invested. Yes, Family Tree is fun. It’s also so basic I initially thought it might have started life as a mobile game. While I admit not all mobile games are bad, my experience with them has largely been negative, finding them mediocre at best. And sadly, I can’t help but view Family Tree as average. While the game is colorful and cute, there’s just not a lot grabbing my attention. Stages mostly look identical, despite minor tweaks to indicate Seasons. And especially disappointing is the sound design, often being muted and strange. I can’t tell you for the life of me why Mr. Fruit makes a cat screech when he takes damage, nor can I say I adored the “wahoos” that played at the end of each stage.

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Though Family Tree isn’t bad, I don’t think I’m the right audience for it. I just wish it had been a lot more ambitious, more challenging (I only lost once so I could take a screenshot of Pedro attacking me when the clock ran out) and featured a more dominant story. Especially since there’s all sorts of Dia de Los Muertos crazy which could have been injected into the story. But if you like simple and fun games that feature more quantity than quality of creative ideas, then you might still enjoy it. If nothing else, it’s very affordable on the eShop.

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About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.