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Ravenlok Review

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Alice in Wonderland may be one-hundred and fifty-eight years old, but it’s not lost its appeal. Over the past year, we can recall three games that have used it as a backdrop – one jigsaw, one point-and-click, one visual novel – and we will likely see many more. That’s partly down to the open copyright, but we’re sure the surrealist, free-wheeling imagination helps too. The further ‘out there’ you go, the better it fits Lewis Carroll’s world. 

Now it’s the turn of Cococumber. They’ve arrived with Ravenlok, which is a lot of things: it’s an Alice in Wonderland game, an Xbox exclusive, a Game Pass day-one addition, and the third in a trilogy with Echo Generation and Riverbond. Although we would say ‘trilogy’ is using a pretty loose definition, as the only thing that truly connects them is the use of voxels. Even then, Ravenlok feels like a game that’s tip-toeing away from voxel art. They’re used sparingly; a few LEGO bricks in a more fully realised world.

Most developers, when they decide to set their game in Wonderland, lay the IP on thick. You can expect jabberwockies, caterpillars and Cheshire Cats out the wazoo. But Ravenlok is unusual in that sense. It’s layered on so thinly that we often forgot we were playing a Wonderland game. Then Tweedledum and Tweedledee or the White Rabbit would turn up, and we’d get a wee reminder of where we were. This is absolutely not a one-to-one adaptation of the novel. Think of it as a Return to Oz-style revisit.

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Ravenlok is a young girl who moves to a small ranch with her family. She’s barely settled in before she is exploring the barn, finding a Looking Glass that belonged to her late aunt (presumably Alice). Following a spit and a polish, it drags her into Wonderland, where a tyrannical queen has holed up in a castle and left the rest of the world to rot. 

Luckily for Wonderland and Ravenlok, there is an ancient prophecy that mentions a girl with black hair who will defeat the queen. So the White Rabbit introduces her to a few friends to get a shield and sword, then effectively kicks her out the door. Her and your task is to explore the surrounding area to find three emblems which will unlock the queen’s gate and give you a shot at the crown. 

This all takes the form of some simple hack-and-slashery against a beautiful backdrop. And we do mean Beautiful with a capital B. Cococucumber have mastered the art of contrast and colour, delivering environments that glow. We’d suspect that Lewis Carroll would stand up and applaud, as areas like the Mushroom Kingdom and the Labyrinth look like they might be painted skyboxes until you realise you can actually explore them. More than once, we took a screenshot, and we aren’t the screenshotting types.

Combat is difficult to get right in a game like Ravenlok, and you can tell that Cococumber struggled. Do they make something accessible, considering that this is a day-one Game Pass game, is effectively set in a kid’s book, and is all primary colours? Or do you risk adding a bit of depth, so that the combat doesn’t quickly become rote? 

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Cococumber have mostly opted for the former. You can attack, block and dodge with the face buttons, and there’s precious little in the way of combos or varying attacks to dabble with. Instead, over the course of the game – which means that combat only gets less one-dimensional the more you play – you unlock abilities on a cooldown. These are called on with the shoulder buttons, offering Ravenlok a frankly overpowered set of missiles, a jump-slash, a flurry of blows and more. Towards the end of the game, you can pretty much cycle between them, but at the start you will have to default back to the sword. 

It is, in all honesty, a tad basic. Like a Hong Kong martial arts movie, the mushrooms, playing-cards and carnivorous plants hang back so that they can be clattered when you have time for them. To be fair, that does mean that you have room to cast your wide variety of spell-like abilities, and they rarely get old. But the overall result is a difficulty level that anyone with passing experience in action-RPGs will absolutely fly through. We died once to a boss, failing to pick up on a particular wind-up animation, but the rest of Ravenlok was cut through like butter. This is not one to play for the challenge. 

Outside of the combat, there is a pocket MMO approach, as you encounter characters of Wonderland – some familiar, like the Mad Hatter, others not – who have quests on offer. These enrich the combat by rewarding you for kills, or giving you something to spot as you wallop slugs. Some of them are game-wide, with our favourites being hidden porcelain rabbits to find, where you bust some moves in front of them to collect them. The more you collect, the more health potions and one-off grenade-like potions you gain 

On occasion, there are puzzle-like quests, as you work out what might raise a giant crab out of the ground, or unlock a door that’s covered in playing-card suits. While they might not be individually inspiring (you’ll have played quests like these before), there’s a strange alchemy that makes Ravenlok a bit of a treat to play. It might not test your fingertips or even your problem-solving abilities, but there is a comfort that comes from playing it. 

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Ravenlok is just so eager to please, which is part of the reason. It doesn’t know what ‘reuse’ means, for one. Every new screen is something to marvel, with enemies that you haven’t encountered before. It’s got an absolute legion of bosses that it wants to show off, and none of them feel like echoes of each other. They might go down easy, but not before showing you multiple phases of attacks. Ravenlok is built to delight – as restlessly inventive as its source material. 

And did we say that it was pretty? This is a chocolate box with a different flavour every time. We  found ourselves hopping from mirror to mirror, into wild new worlds. A dingy theatre moves to a slug-infested tea party, before heading to an overgrown greenhouse. If there’s a criticism, it’s that it has room to push the boundaries of surrealism a little further: while the world is gorgeous and inventive, we didn’t quite sit back and ask “what the fudge was that?”. Lewis Carroll won’t quite be beaten on that front just yet. 

We suspect that Ravenlok will see a fair amount of criticism for its lack of depth and length. Its dimensions are a little limited. But we drink a bottle that says ‘bite me’: Ravenlok is a waltz through Wonderland that you won’t regret. Embrace the lightweight combat and puzzles and follow the path and see where it leads you. The journey is well worth it.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Flipping gorgeous
  • Every room offers something new
  • Sub-quests keep you engaged
  • We didn’t stop till the end
Cons:
  • Combat is too simplistic for some
  • Over in a jiffy
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Cococucumber
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
  • Release date and price - 4 May 2023 | £20.99

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Parksey1972
Parksey1972
4 months ago

Great review Dave. I really enjoyed my play through. Didn’t out stay it’s welcome. Fun little game that I probably wouldn’t of played if not for Gamepass.

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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Flipping gorgeous</li> <li>Every room offers something new</li> <li>Sub-quests keep you engaged</li> <li>We didn’t stop till the end</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Combat is too simplistic for some</li> <li>Over in a jiffy</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Cococucumber</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Xbox One, PC <li>Release date and price - 4 May 2023 | £20.99</li> </ul>Ravenlok Review
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