PRETTY, BUT FLAT
It has been a couple of years since my baby brother has watched Higglytown Heroes, a Playhouse Disney kids show; however, I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded of it while playing Upper Byte’s Wooden Sen’SeY. Maybe it is the vibrant colors, tenuous story, or Matryoshkan-like figures. Either way, the Wii U’s eShop is in a bit of a rut due to lack of content — does Wooden Sen’SeY do enough to stand apart from other great platformers?
Wooden Sen’SeY was initially released on PC last December, meeting luke-warm critical and financial success. The game’s developer, Upper Byte Studio, created Wooden Sen’SeY in order to provide a game that merged “hardcore old school gameplay” with pretty aesthetics.
Upper Byte managed to bring the latter in spades. For a $9.99 eShop game, Wooden Sen’SeY has some of the best art I’ve seen on the system yet. The game is heavily inspired by Japanese watercolor and ukiyo-e, presenting stunning backdrops and effects. If you are a fan of cartoony artstyles, you will want to progress through the game to see what other settings the game has in store.
Speaking of the Japanese-inspired elements, Wooden Sen’SeY merges classical Japanese sounds with some upbeat rock to make a generally enjoyable mix. While nothing from the game is catchy enough to get stuck in my head, the pieces work well to enhance the background and overall theme of the game.
The story is simple enough: the game follows Goro, an axe-wielding village chief, in his attempts to repossess his village’s stolen wealth. Much like the “old school” games that Wooden Sen’SeY draws inspiration from, the story is limited and confined to just a small intro and closing. While the story is shallow, a platformer’s true strength lies in its gameplay mechanics and level design.
Unfortunately for Wooden Sen’SeY, the mechanics aren’t quite on par with what most gamers have come to expect. The game allows for running, jumping, grappling, and double-jump-esque axe-smash. While all of these work fine in practice, some of the Wii U specific default motion controls are ill-fit for the type of gameplay. For instance, the axe-smash mechanic requires tilting the GamePad down — while this would be fine if it was an occasional mechanic, it is one that gets used every three seconds. What’s worse, the platforms often require a type of precision that is nearly impossible with the motion-controls. Thankfully, those who explore the control options will be able to map the axe-smash to a button.
The level design runs the gambit of “so easy a caveman could do it” to “straight from Ghosts N’ Goblins (aka, the hardest game ever created)”. While the first couple of levels are for the most part a snore-fest, the end game brings some smart game design and dastardly traps. That said, the further you get to the end, the more the game becomes artificially difficult — some of the design seems blatantly impossible to navigate (possibly due to the architecture of the levels or the imprecise mechanics). The developers seem to have noticed that, offering plenty of extra lives in these scattered areas. It begs the question: why not make these sections slightly easier and forgo the unnecessary and inevitable rage-quits?
One other major disappointment surrounding the gameplay are the enemies themselves. The combat in the game feels very bland, which is further emphasized by the lack of enemy types (no more than ten, by my estimation). What’s worse, the enemies never pose a challenge — they are there to act as collectables, much like the orbs Goro collects. I couldn’t help but feel like the game would have been better if it was limited to only platforming and boss fights.
While there are only nine levels in the game (lasting three hours for those who take their time), Wooden Sen’SeY offers other methods to replay the game. Players can focus on beating all the enemies, collecting all the orbs, beating the developers’ times, or playing the Time Attack mode to unlock achievements and earn the coveted 100%.
The Verdict: 6.7 out of 10
Wooden Sen’SeY is an artistic game that manages to bring some fresh new ideas to the platforming genre. Unfortunately, the game is bogged down in an otherwise bland control scheme, enemy pattern, and sometimes artificially difficult areas. For $9.99, you will certainly get more than you paid for — just be prepared to deal with some rage-quits first.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Lou Contaldi is MONG’s Executive Editor. In his off time, he enjoys being aggressively mediocre at Hearthstone. You can follow his incoherent ramblings at Twitter.
This review is based on a review copy game that was provided by the publishers. The reviewer has spent four hours with the title, and is now searching for the OST.