A prophecy and being thought of as the ‘chosen one’ is quite a lot of responsibility. For one, the hopes and dreams of many depend entirely on you and what you might decide to action in order to make things better. What happens if you’re the chosen one, but discover you’re a bit useless? What happens if a prophecy states that you will change the world forever, but what you actually do is just make life itself a bit worse? Well, Mable and the Wood starts with the reveal of a new chosen one; one who literally descends from the heavens. But can this redhead girl who can’t lift the sword she arrives with really save the world? Thankfully she has a lot of tricks up her sleeve.
Mable and the Wood is a Metroidvania type affair that puts you in the middle of a world that is dying and falling apart. At the start of the game, a strange cult – all dressed in hoods – are summoning a saviour based on an old prophecy. The lead character is revealed from the heavens, dropping in the shape of a redheaded girl with a heavy-looking sword. You are then tasked with the job to go out into the world, seek out some huge monsters and absorb their powers. Being a Metroidvania experience you could choose to kill no-one or kill everything – it’s up to you.
The gameplay is set in the 2D platform format, as you walk around dragging your sword in tow, but at the beginning you can’t jump or attack as you’d expect from a game of this ilk. So here’s where the special powers come into play and where the game design is hugely original and clever. See, you have the ability to absorb the powers of the beasts or monsters you defeat. To start with this comes in the form of the power to transform into a faerie for a short period of time, letting you fly into the air with yourself tethered to the magical sword placed in the ground. This helps you get up onto platforms or to escape any monster hanging around the level.
You also get the ability, while in mid-air, to summon the sword to you which then flies through the air; if a monster is in the sword’s pathway then it kills it or does serious damage. Quite soon after that though – and without spoiling too much – you’ll discover spidey powers, gaining you the ability to swing in the air or fire a web. There are also some rock powers that you absorb, for example making you invulnerable to some attacks and enabling you to smash through walls. And with each boss you face the more powers you will begin to absorb, and the more tricks you have to your disposal. It is with these in which you will be able to reach areas that you’ve never seen before, utilising the powers to smash gates or destroy barriers.
The vast majority of Mable and the Wood is a fun experience; one that this reviewer normally shies away from. But that’s not to say it’s perfect and I did have a few problems. For instance, it takes a while to get used to the controls, mainly because it is very different from anything you would have played before. I do think the development team could have made the switching between powers a lot easier too, because the timing of switching quickly becomes so important later on and I had a nightmare trying to perfect the technique. There are also times when I found myself lost, not knowing where to go next, spending quite a bit of time backtracking – but then that’s Metroidvania all over for you. Further to that, some of the boss battles initially feel near impossible – but you may wish to take that snippet of criticism with a pinch of salt because I am well known for being fairly useless at skill-based games.
Thankfully the visuals are decent enough for this type of game, albeit without ever blowing your socks off. The colours are great and there are some nice characters you meet on the way, and it all works well to immerse you into the world. The soundtrack works in a similar way: a steady, solid, pumping beat that encourages you to keep playing in that rhythmic way a good platformer does. It’s well worth noting that the writing is sharp and witty, all done in a tongue in cheek manner and I found that it made the story pop to life.
Mable and the Wood on Xbox One provides a solid game that will especially appeal to fans of Metroidvania type fun and havoc. It needs you to be skilful and inventive in your decision making, but should you be able to work with that then you will find a lot of game to be had for your buck. I have found myself very much liking the writing and must applaud the invention. The control system is something that could have done with a bit more work in how it’s been used though, however on the flipside the originality of the absorbing powers and using them is original; I just wish swapping between them was a bit more fluid. In the end though, whether or not this is the right prophecy for you will all be determined by your love of the genre; if you’re down with the scene, you can’t go wrong here.