by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Ah, the gritty reboot. We’ve had Batman, we’ve had Power Rangers, and now we have Little Red Riding Hood. Obvious parallels can be drawn between Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries and American McGee’s Alice series. Sadly, although its heart is in the right place, Woolfe does not live up to those lofty gritty reboot expectations.
In short, it’s part competent 2.5D platformer, part mediocre action game. You play as Red in the city of Ulrica, which is in the hands of the devious B.B. Woolfe. A few years prior, Red’s father Joseph worked as an engineer for Woolfe Industries, but died in a tragic work accident. At the start of the game, you find that Red’s mother has gone missing. So, she must go on a quest to find her, discover secrets about the past, and exact revenge on Woolfe.
For the most part, it’s a side scrolling platformer, however you are able to move freely through the planes, making it almost a 3D game. This is a good way of allowing you some extra freedom, but is not at all helpful when precision is required. Some jumping puzzles feature platforms moving in three dimensions, and it’s extremely difficult to judge exactly the direction you’re jumping when you only have a slight amount of control over a fixed camera. The 2.5D is also a hindrance when you’re not exactly sure where you’re going next. Am I supposed to jump towards the camera? To the right? It wasn’t always obvious, and led to multiple deaths as I jumped where I wasn’t supposed to go.
The game is quite fickle when it comes to deciding where you can and can’t jump. You can’t hop over a short fence to a platform below thanks to an invisible wall, but it’ll happily let you fall to your doom off a ledge you happen to get too close to. Add this to extremely unforgiving platforming sequences where one wrong move will send you all the way back to the beginning, and Woolfe quickly becomes an exercise in frustration. You have a fairly meaty health bar, but some hazards will instantly kill you, and the collision detection on these is generally awful.
It’s also awful when it comes to combat. Alice can swing her axe in a light or heavy attack, and she unlocks a few magical attacks throughout the game which equate to a ground pound and a spin attack. There’s no lock-on system, so you’re often fumbling around trying to hit enemies with your narrow attacks, and the magical ones are even worse. The action slows down, your enemies are highlighted and the screen goes all wavy allowing you to make your move. You’re usually lucky if your magical attack does exactly what you want it to. The area of effect on the ground pound in particular leaves something to be desired.
This all leads to you getting hit a lot. There’s a roll button, but it’s not particularly useful since simply backing up a little bit has the same effect. Certain enemies, rats in particular, will gang up on you, and if you don’t dispatch them quickly, they’ll eat away at your health bar in no time. There are a few boss fights, but they don’t go beyond making you figure out a couple of mundane attack patterns and dodge some pretty telegraphed special abilities.
Great art style
The one redeeming factor about the whole thing is the art style. It looks great, and it captures the feel of a gritty, yet fairy tale, city very well. If gritty reboot of Little Red Riding Hood was your pitch, then this is probably pretty close to what you’d think of. The action soon goes into an area seemingly ripped apart by magic, and has quite a Dragon Age Inquisition rift feel about it, and it too looks cool. It’s a shame, then, that what you’re doing in these areas isn’t all that fun, and you’re usually out of each location before you’ve had a chance to properly enjoy it. There are only a few levels on offer, and I finished the game in a little over two hours. This is just volume 1 of 2, but rather than making me excited for the next one, the ending of Volume 1 served to confuse me more than anything.
In fact, the entire story was a little underwhelming. And, just like my encounter with Ubisoft’s Child of Light last year, I usually found myself distracted by the awful attempt at delivering the story through “poetry”. Sadly, vague attempts at rhyming the last words of random lines with no regard for metre or flow isn’t poetry. Red’s voice actress did the best she could with the material given, but the overall narrative was quite disappointing.
Technically, it’s not particularly well made either. Beyond the poor collision detection and weird invisible walls, I encountered multiple bugs. One caused me to have to replay an entire level. The first boss fight ends with a door opening animation, which somehow killed me mid cut-scene. When I returned to the checkpoint and played the boss fight again, the door was already open, but I was unable to walk through it. I killed the boss, and this time the door closed instead of opened, and left me stranded on the wrong side! Another instance of me having to replay an entire level arose when I wasn’t aware that quitting the game mid-level would return you to the very start when you loaded it back up again, rather than starting you at the most recent checkpoint.
While looking at screenshots before installing the game, I was quite excited over what Woolfe - The Red Hood Diaries had in store for me. I would advise you not to make the same mistakes I did. Unless you have a particular penchant for dark versions of fairy tales, this one is best left to the Woodman’s axe.
Great art style
Poor combat mechanics, annoying bugs, and an awful attempt at poetry