Mable & the Wood‘s marketing refers to it extensively as a Metroidvania game. It was funded in April 2016 on Kickstarter, promising a number of interesting gimmicks. However, our staff who played the demo at E3 were not impressed. Let’s keep all this in mind as we discuss Mable & the Wood.
Into the Wood
Mable starts with a young girl being summoned by a bunch of cultists. They send you off to save the world, which is supposedly coming to an end. You can do this by defeating giant boss monsters and taking their powers. There’s a catch though: You can’t jump. Mable’s sword is too heavy, so she drags it along the ground. This is where the transform mechanic comes in. Press B to drop the sword and you become a fairy with increased mobility for a few seconds. Press B again and your sword comes flying back, mowing down anything in its path. This is what allows you to progress through the game. Defeating bosses grants you new forms, such as spider, mole, and rock. It’s a clever mechanic that had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, this game does not do it justice.
The first thing you’ll notice upon starting up Mable & the Wood is that there are frame rate drops on the title screen. There are a lot of particle effects, and they drag the game down immensely in most areas. Once Mable is summoned, you get right into the story. It’s cute at first and about halfway through the game becomes legitimately engrossing. You’re given tantalizing clues about who Mable is and, even more mysteriously, what she is. The game seems to have a theme of “Things aren’t always as they seem,” but it doesn’t really pan out. The humor is hit or miss, and each NPC has about a dozen different lines, which sometimes makes getting at the story frustrating.
When you finally set out, you’ll notice a few things. First, the controls are wild and unwieldy. A platformer lives and dies by the tightness of its controls, and Mable fails at this basic element. Human Mable trudges slowly along the ground. The fairy flies with a strange momentum. The spider swings unpredictably. Somehow the rock has the best mobility in the game, as the speedy forms can only move to the right for some reason. I found myself never using most of the transformations, which is a shame as they all have cool gimmicks.
As you progress, the gameplay does not improve. Both Mable and her enemies glitch through the floor, ceiling, and walls more often than one would expect from a finished title. If you get hit by an enemy (and you will, whether you were trying to avoid it or not), you lose life and some money. The money will almost certainly disappear before you can pick it up. You’ll rarely see the merchant anyway, so it’s not too big a deal.
What is a Metroidvania? A miserable little pile of genre hallmarks!
Mable describes itself as a Metroidvania, but it really isn’t. The various areas are separate from each other and become closed off more often than not. Most of the abilities are unnecessary outside of the one or two rooms immediately following the boss fight. You’ll backtrack, sure, but it never feels like you’ve accomplished anything. While there are upgrades, they don’t really help all that much and you can easily miss them forever. There are so many instant death pits, and it’s not even clear which ones they are! Sometimes you’ll fall to a lower level; sometimes you’ll die. Sometimes the spikes kill you instantly, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes a frame rate drop will send fairy Mable careening wildly into a saw blade. The possibilities are endless.
Are we out of the Wood yet?
I played through the game in about three and a half hours. This isn’t counting the half hour that I tried to play through the game without killing anything since I had been led to believe that was possible, but you literally can’t progress without defeating the first boss. Another strike against the marketing. Perhaps it’s possible to play a pacifist run in a new game plus. Upon defeating the final boss, I unlocked a new form. Sadly, the game crashed before I could try it out, which wasn’t surprising at all.
Mable & the Wood had a lot going for it: the promise of a Metroidvania, a slew of interesting mechanics, and a decent storyline. But the final product isn’t worth your time or the asking price (even with a launch discount).
A review code was provided by the publisher.