A couple of months ago I wrote my first impressions of The Great Tree, a downloadable PC game by Reflexive Arcade, and Iâ€™m happy to report that the game lived up to those first impressions (perhaps more so) .
The game was designed by some of the team who made the well regarded Wik & The Fable of Souls and this is obvious by the graphics, music and overall â€œfairyâ€ theme â€“ not cute cartoon-like fairies but the more dark and mysterious type associated with old fay folk tales.
You play a fairy whom must collect pollen in order to return it to a sacred tree that needs the pollen to either heal itself or fight evil fairies or something â€“ I honestly canâ€™t remember the details because the story was crazy long and boring (and unrelated to the gameplay), which Iâ€™ll talk about later. Your aim is to fly around the screen (a beautifully rendered mostly static background that is a close-up of something e.g. a castle wall, a statue etc, because fairies are small you seeâ€¦) and collect randomly floating pollen whilst avoiding a variety of flies that damage you if you touch them. You control the fairy with the mouse by simply moving it around – this is really intuitive and easy, and the fairy moves in a natural manner due to inertia.
As you collect the pollen it gets stuck to your ponytail which gets longer and longer. You can drop off the pollen at a special place at the top of the screen but itâ€™s more fun to wait until your ponytail is full at which point you can click the mouse button to unleash a circular area-effect magical explosion which takes out all the flies it hits. Itâ€™s good fun timing it just right to take out the maximum number of enemies. In addition to collecting pollen you also have to free trapped â€œSweeâ€, which are these little creatures (friends of the fairies) floating around in green circles. You do this by collecting small green orbs from certain flies that act as keys to release the Swee. I enjoyed this extra gameplay element and wished that there were more similar things.
Also when you destroy flies, they sometimes drop a bonus that activates as soon as you fly over it. Most of these are destructive and have cool effects. Itâ€™s great fun grabbing these and mashing the annoying flies in a shower of fancy particle effects.
Every 5th level has a â€œbossâ€ of sorts, which is a part of the background that is â€œaliveâ€ and attacks you! For example, there is frog that tries to get you with its tongue, flowers that spit out nasty goo, an evil tree that tries to suck you in itâ€™s gnarly mouth etc. These add an extra tactical element to those levels because you have to basically avoid that area of the screen most of the time (you canâ€™t destroy the bosses).
The game has an upgrade system (I LOVE upgrades – itâ€™s the RPG geek in me). Once you have collected enough Swee in-game, you get a star which can be â€œspentâ€ between levels on one of your stats: Agility, health, strength, magic. Agility moves you faster, and health is obvious. Youâ€™ll need to upgrade of both of these a bit. Strength increases the area-affect of your in-game attack (itâ€™s cool when you get it really wide), and magic increases the chance of bonuses appearing (can be pretty useful and fun). You also periodically get awarded new wings that have various effects on you, but you can only choose one pair at a time to wear in-game. One thing you canâ€™t do that might have gone down well with players is customise your fairy (so choose face and clothes/colours at the start of the game) â€“ depends on how many of the players are the clichÃ©d middle-aged female gamer I guessâ€¦
I think there are 100 levels. I say this because at first each background is shown for 5 levels then you move onto the next background and there are 10 backgrounds. â€œHang onâ€, I hear you say, â€œthatâ€™s only 50 levelsâ€. Well, when you complete the 9th background, you go back to first one and play another 5 levels but this time there are more flies, you need to collect more pollen ,and the bosses appear on more levels (sometimes two on the same level!). I presume that after completing the 9th background for the second time you get to play the 10th background thus making approx. 100 levels. I havenâ€™t got this far yet.
I found the gameplay quick to get into, yet surprising addictive, and it grows harder nicely as you progress. The 3D-rendered graphics are great and very atmospheric as are the music and sound effects. Iâ€™m not sure what market the game is pitched at though because the concept (fairies etc) seems rather â€œcasualâ€ yet the actual gameplay is more like a hardcore game (e.g. avoid enemies, set off powerups and upgrade your character). Anyway I liked it.
Only a couple of things annoyed me about the game: the HUD sometimes gets in the way because you can fly behind it, but thatâ€™s not a major issue – the main stinker was the story and it could have been so much better! Let me explain. When the game starts there is an introduction that consists of some really nice artwork on some slides and some scrolling text which a fairy is reading out. The problem is that itâ€™s WAY too long. It goes on for at least 5 minutes and the narrator sounds TOTALLY lifeless â€“ itâ€™s awful, enough to make you want to commit suicide. As a reviewer I sat through it (feeling I ought to) with my 4-year-old son on my lap, and eventually I failed to prevent one of his many frantic attempts at clicking past the intro before he reached old age. Then there is no story for many levels but when it reappears itâ€™s the same lacklustre format. It would have been much better as a couple of quick slides and some well-narrated â€œenthusiasticâ€ speech that appeared every couple of levels. Then *many* more people would have been able to appreciate the great artwork and storytelling. Thatâ€™s my 2 cents as a game designer anywayâ€¦
OK story aside, this is a fun and addictive game with a unique feel, unusual gameplay mechanic and great atmosphere. I recommend it to people who like action games and casual games because this game is a sort of cross-over between core and casual gaming (the new holy grail according to some people).
I'm an Indie game developer with a couple of titles under my belt. I've been programming for 23 years on a variety of platforms. Currently I'm using BlitzMax, which is great.