We all know the story of Red Riding Hood. Grandma is eaten by a Wolf and the Huntsman saves the day. GRIN has taken the classic fairytale and brought their very own story to life in a Steampunk world full of revenge and tin soldiers. No longer is Red a defenceless young girl, but a fully grown woman out to find the truth behind her father’s mysterious death.
When you first run Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries you’ll notice its story book style, blended with an imaginative Steam Punk world. Red Riding Hood tells us that this is no fairy tale, but I cannot help but feel it is exactly that. The world is populated by toys masquerading as soldiers whilst Red tries to find out the truth about her father’s mysterious death. GRIN Studios have taken the source material and twisted it into their own story. But please, when I say twisted, I mean this in a good way. No longer is Red a young and weak little girl but a fully grown woman with a penchant for axes.
We all know the story of Red Riding Hood. Red goes to visit granny only to find she has been eaten, and the gender confused wolf has slipped on her nightgown and is parading as the frail old lady. In this iteration Red Riding Hood’s mother dies some years before, and the wolf is a man named B. B. Woolfe – don’t you just love the word play? Woolfe is the owner of a company that builds life sized toy soldiers and is responsible for the death of Red’s father. Because of this Red has been raised mainly by her grandmother in the forest, who taught her a range of skills to enact her revenge. The story is definitely a nice take on the classic fairy tale with additions of the Pied Piper and Pinocchio as boss characters.
The world it’s self reminds me a lot of the Fable series. It seems that GRIN has taken a few cues from Lionhead’s Fable series, just without all of the cockney accents. Red often voices her opinions and thoughts in the forms of quirky one liners – Buffy the Vampire Slayer style. I feel this makes a her more relateable as a character and it gives us an insight to her character as well as framing some past events. One line I particular liked was so simple, but it explained why Red dies if she falls into the water. It was some thing along the lines of “Granny taught me a lot of things. To run, to fight, but not to swim”. In a nice added touch Red also speaks in rhyme. Much like Princess Aurora from Ubisoft’s Child of Light. It’s a wonderful touch and strengthens the fairy tale like feel.
I noticed a few little nods to the source material through out the game. The most notable is the basket of food. At the beginning of the game Red states this was made by Granny to make sure she does not go hungry. These are also littered throughout the levels and restore Red’s health when collected. Another one of note is that of Pinocchio, who has the words “Real Boy” carved onto him. A little sinister, yes, but a great reference. Red’s over all design also feels a little bit wolfy, but in stark antithesis to the “big bad wolf” I imagined from the story. Her figure is tall and slender, but she seems to stalk her prey. I’m not sure if this is intentional, or just me. Either way I think it fits perfectly.
It’s not just enough for a game to look good. It has to also play well. I can honestly say that Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries plays well. By nature it’s a 2.5D side scroller, but below the surface it feels like much more. There is a fair bit of free roaming along the track you are taking (think Streets of Rage) and it is entirely possible to miss-judge a jump and miss a platform. This happened to me a fair few times. I did bump into a few invisible barriers where I didn’t expect them, but I have taken into account that this is a pre-release and to be honest, there was nothing really game breaking that I found.
The combat system feels more of a wild button mash than any thing calculated and planned. The more you tap the attack button, the more damage that seems to be done. The tutorials were not much help either. I was playing with the Xbox 360 controller, so I would tap Y for a heavy attack or X for a quicker, lighter attack. The game ‘helpfully’ told me to press B while using magic to throw my axe; a move I have yet to complete as the B button is also reserved for the roll move. It’s a little frustrating. Usually I dislike forced tutorials, but I feel this would be a welcome addition to Woolfe.
With the game focusing on a stealth aspect, it is possible to sneak past a lot of the enemies. Some times you either have to sneak or run. Trying to take on a group usually ends in death. Although initially frustrating it forced me to switch out my playing style and adapt to the surroundings. Usually I like to run through a game hitting each challenge with the speed of a small locomotive, but Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries uses this against you and makes you slow down and enjoy the scenery, so to speak. Overall I found the levels were well designed. There were a few times I got a little confused as to where to go but once I had fully assessed the situation the path became clear to me. Each area has it’s own look and feel. From the starting area of the town, to the dank sewers, to the beautiful greenery of the forest where Red spent her child hood.
The boss battles, although difficult are fun. They break up the gameplay and add a bit of verity into the story. I did find that the difficulty curve was quite sharp, and with no upgrades to apply to your character it can be tricky to overcome these sections. There are also key story line moments where Red interacts with glowing items and reminisces on the past or ponders a clue. I understand that these parts are essential for driving the story, but I wish I wasn’t forced to walk during these scenes. There’s no need to slow the player down that much.
All in all, Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries is an enjoyable game. The side scrolling is a nice change from the open world puzzler and the graphics are pretty decent. GRIN Studios’ take on the classic story is close enough to feel familiar, but different enough to feel like some thing new. The Steam Punk aspect is a nice choice of setting and fits very well with the fairy tale theme. The game still needs a bit of tweaking, especially the combat, but other than that I would highly recommend this game.