I covered Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries some time ago as part of my Kickstarter of the Week feature (RIP), and I was rather impressed with what the team at Grin Gamestudio had accomplished on such a small budget. Despite not getting my hands on the game in alpha, I was blown away by the production design of Woolfe, which managed to look beautiful even in screenshot form. As the only KSotW now available for public consumption (I suppose that says something about my choices), I’m pleased to reveal that Woolfe looks as gorgeous as ever, and although it possesses a few aggravating wrinkles, it’s a refreshingly competent addition to an Early Access platform mired by increasingly shoddy releases.
Woolfe is fairly simple in its conceit: it’s effectively Alice: Madness Returns, but with Red Riding Hood instead of Lewis Carroll. I don’t say this to disparage Woolfe – it’s not an overly original concept, but the fairytale re-imagining slant works really well within the format of a 3-D action platformer, since it allows Woolfe’s designers to spend as much time as possible on cool enemy and environment designs, whilst keeping the amount of individual systems in play to a minimum.
As an exercise in jumping, dashing and rolling, Woolfe is thoroughly entertaining. Red Riding Hood traverses twisted forest landscapes and grim, post-industrial cityscapes, all the while aiming to thwart the exploits of one BB Woolfe (get it?), a ruthless factory tycoon with whom Hood’s late father shares a mysterious past. Navigating these areas can take on the form of fairly gentle climbing puzzles, stealth sections, or tests of speed, and though they’re not particularly challenging, they’re stimulating enough to keep the game at a consistent elevated pace.
As a protagonist, Red Riding Hood is tough, smart and sassy as hell, due in no small part to her cute-but-deadly design and some strong vocal narration to accompany gameplay sections. Along the way, she blasts through clockwork toy soldiers and nasty re-workings of classic fairytale characters with her trusty woodcutter’s axe. Unfortunately, this is where Woolfe shows off the cracks in its Early Access foundation. Combat and stealth animations are often rather vague and erratic, and actual fights involve an awful lot of button mashing and hoping for the best. There simply aren’t enough command prompts on show to help players work out how to perform combos and special attacks; sometimes I’d press a combination of buttons and pull off an impressive aerial spin combo, but all too often I’d simply perform a regular attack. Action is far too ambiguous and lacks a significant amount of depth – the lack of a ‘block’ ability was particularly frustrating during tougher fights, and each swing of the act lacks the power and feedback other action games offer.
This is to say nothing of Woolfe’s rather perplexing and old fashioned “puzzle bosses”, which only serve to frustrate the plater with obnoxious “predict-the-pattern” and “dodge the area attack” gameplay. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it certainly hampers what is otherwise a refreshingly quaint and inventive little game.
Of course Woolfe comes with the odd clipping bug and animation glitch here and there, though this is to be expected given its Early Access status. What’s more surprising is how little these issues come up; on the whole Woolfe is actually a fairly tight, polished game, and it seems as though great care has been taken so as to “ship” a complete experience even in this preliminary Beta stage.
The entire game feels like something of a throwback to action platformers of the late 90s/early 2000s, particularly games like Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey. Every fight and platforming section feels somewhat archaic, both in positive and negative senses. Running and jumping feels responsive, fast paced and easy to grasp, whereas combat at present is a rather wishy-washy hack-n-slash affair. Woolfe shows an awful lot of promise, though, especially for a game on Early Access. You simply don’t come across games of this genre with this level of aesthetic polish, production design and graphic fidelity too often, so it’d be a shame to see The Red Hood Diaries dragged down by underwhelming combat. If you’re looking for an interesting fairytale adaptation and you’re sick to death of Tim Burton, Woolfe is definitely worth checking out.