Legend of Zelda and action RPG fans can go back to bed: there’s nothing to see here. WeakWood Throne might look appealing in screenshots, but it’s an infuriating, aimless little game that won’t satisfy any of your Link-based urges.
The opening is positive, as everything looks colourful, crisp, and like a top-end RPG Maker game. Movement and controls do what they’re supposed to, and there’s a jolly bounce to the player character as they romp around the Hyrule-like world. Press LT and you do a spiffy little roll, but hold LT and you hop onto a skateboard. We were particularly excited about the last one: were we going to see some kind of Hawk/Link crossover? Unfortunately, it’s just a fast(ish) traversal button; a glorified run.
We waltzed into our first village, and the concerns crept in. There’s no story to be found – not really. There’s rumblings of a new king – the WeakWood King of the title – who has recently taken the throne (a coup? Inherited? It’s never clear). It seems they might be a scummer, sending crocodile and shark troops to kill people and take taxes. But we’ve guessed most of that from snatches of conversation, as the villagers are distracted by their own interests. Some dude wants some carrots. Another wants some sunflower seeds. That woman over there wants you to kill some cat people.
So, off you pop to kill those cat-people, and you hit the worst of WeakWood’s problems. Combat in WeakWood Throne is some of the most diabolical that we’ve encountered in any RPG. Genuinely, it would take real effort to achieve this quality. You aim with the left-stick and flap your sword with RT, and the results are improbably weak. Hit an enemy and you get a soft fart sound and the smallest chunk of HP falls off them. But hitting an enemy is extremely unlikely, as they seem to have a pixel-wide hitbox, and you’ll be delicately stroking them with the sword with no discernible effect.
The result is that you’re running up to an enemy, wafting some attacks at them and perhaps hitting with one, before rolling away to avoid their replies, which – of course – hits 100% of the time, and carves out half of your health bar. It’s a one-sided, awkward dance, and you’ll feel inadequate in front of the burly mer-people and giant crabs.
The developers seem to wearily place a hand on your shoulder and say “I know, I know”, as they make death a minor grievance. You restart on the edges of your Link-like map square, and you’ve got all your health back. The enemies are even finite, so you can – finally! – kill that hench shark man so that they’ll be gone forever. The developers have even left in kiting exploits, so you can show some leg to an enemy, get its attention, and then scarper to a corner of the game map so you can do the awkward waft-roll-waft dance with them.
In many quests, you have to chop flowers and plants with your sword, and the same problems occur. Except, this time, your enemy is inanimate. You’ll wearily chop at them with no effect, until someone in WeakWood’s control room decides that, yes, okay, we’ll let you harvest the sunflower now. But only this once. Being defeated by a field of tomatoes is as empowering as it sounds.
You could ignore the choppy choppy plant stuff, but you soon come to realise that it’s 90% of WeakWood’s content. The only thing pulling you through WeakWood Throne is the miniquests; the dull chain of people asking you for leaves and seeds. There are about twenty of these, and they won’t take you a stupendous amount of time to complete, even with the floppy sword thing. You will have accumulated fruit and seeds on your travels, so half of these quests will be completed as soon as you activate them. The other half will be mopped up as you explore afterwards, and then all you’re left with is WeakWood Throne’s boss encounters.
On their own, the boss encounters are fine. They’re four creatures, found on the fringes of the map, with a mix of mechanics to set them apart. The first boss, Lilith, drops bombs from the sky while mobs hound you. It’s that level of simplicity, but it does a job. The problem is that three of the four require you to level up before you even have a chance. They’re life-point sponges, and their attacks will churn you out. Some are best taken on with magic or ranged attacks, which means spending points in Dexterity and Magic when you level up, so that you can use the high-powered bows and staves that dropped to the floor in combat situations.
So, here lies the conundrum. Once you’ve exhausted the mini-quests, you’re probably halfway to the levels you need to be to defeat these bosses. Or worse: if you’ve pumped all your level-ups into something like melee, you might be further away, as you can’t respec, and you need magic or range stats to have a chance. So, you have a choice to make: do you grind for a few hours, gliding your feather-duster over the creatures of WeakWood Throne, so that you might have a chance with these bosses? Or do you serenely put the pad down, turn off the Xbox, and forget that WeakWood Throne ever existed?
WeakWood Throne looks around apologetically for reasons for you to play. There’s no main quest. No story. The sub-quests fritter away after an hour of play. Weapons and armour can be bought with gold or gained from drops, but there’s a limited number and you have to level up to use most of them anyway. So, what you’re left with is levelling, and the implied joy that watching a level go up, in the hope of – perhaps – defeating a boss is enough. It’s not enough, and WeakWood will feel like an empty sandbox after no more than an hour or two.
There’s undeniable craft here in the graphics. There’s potential, even, in how you get free-reign in the game map, and how you can pop over to visit the bosses in your first five minutes. The skateboard was something that could have been more pivotal, and the approach of making the enemies finite – one death and they’re gone – was bold, and offered some satisfaction as you cleared out an area. There’s the scattered pieces of a decent game here.
But my gosh are we reaching. This colourful little action-RPG has two huge, Ganon-sized problems, and we’re not completely convinced that anyone tried to solve them. Its combat is so unbelievably limp that a carrot leaf feels like a mid-game boss. And WeakWood has such a meagre list of things for you to do, that you’ll be opening menus to see if you’ve missed something (oh, and there’s no map either, because of course).
You have to have cojones of steel to call your game ‘WeakWood’. You have to know that reviewers and comment threads will be jumping at the opportunity to rub that ‘Weak’ in your face. But in the end, we don’t have the energy. It’d be like trying to hit a duck in a barrel, and we’d just miss with every attempt.
You can buy WeakWood Throne for £4.19 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S