Game Title: Episode 1 of Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries
A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of this article.
Woolfe: The Red Hood Diaries is a game that can never decide whether it is parodying the sort of dark fairy-tale fiction that has sprung up over the last few years or reveling in it. This makes for a game that is often hilarious for all the wrong reasons as you play as Red, a young girl hoping to take down a corrupt military official known as BB Woolfe using only her wits, acrobatic skills and a very sharp axe. After an introduction in which Red gives some horribly overwrought monologues about how her father was murdered by Woolfe, how her family fell apart, and her plots for revenge, you must sit through several introductory videos before finally sneaking out into the city to find information that may help shed some light on Woolfe’s evil scheming.
At first these exercises outside Red’s home are fun, as you are able to run and stealth your way through hordes of “nutcracker-esque” tin soldiers, that patrol the empty streets of a snow-covered town in search of dissenters. Red herself has a variety of moves at her disposal, and can avoid both platforming elements and enemies alike with an array of techniques that include double jumps, climbing poles and ladders, and quickly rolling to dodge incoming attacks. While these moves are all well animated—in turn the controls in Woolfe are often spotty. On more than one occasion, they sent Red to an untimely death at the bottom of one of the game’s many bottomless pits, waterways, and toxic cesspools. This is rather unfortunate too, as the platforming segments of the game are perhaps its strongest point and the place where it shines brightest. Indeed, it has been some time since I had played a non-Mario platform game and Woolfe almost managed to rekindle my love of the genre! Sadly, this revelation would never come to pass, however, as certain game design choices make what could have been an otherwise excellent modern entry in the platforming genre into an exercise in frustration.
As good as the platforming can be, the above-mentioned controls often join forces with the camera to zoom out from the action, far enough that Red herself is often barely visible on screen and this will kill you early and often. Making matters worse, these same hazards often require pinpoint accuracy and timing. This ends up making it very easy to die, get booted back to the nearest checkpoint and then repeat the same obstacle over and over until you either clear it or just give up on the matter entirely. This exercise in futility is ultimately made even worse when you realize that you cannot even save in the middle of a level under any circumstances. Even so much as trying to quit a level will bring up a message warning you, that quitting now will erase all progress you’ve made on the current level. It’s as if it’s taunting you that the feature, which honestly should be a part of any game with levels of this length, and it doesn’t exist at all. Of all the things Woolfe does wrong—and there are quite a few, this is ultimately the worst, single element that turned me off from the game.
In between being mauled by saw blades, lit ablaze, and falling down pits, you will also have to contend with Woolfe’s evil army of tin soldiers and other clockwork foes. These combat segments are not fun in the least and consist almost entirely of flailing on the “A” key— or other button in the console versions of the game until enemies fall over dead. But it doesn’t end there. Due to the nature of the game’s health bar—a red potion found in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, and how it empties as you take damage, it is actually difficult to even tell how much health you have left at any given moment. But wait there is more! Even if you can tell how much health you have, the repetition of fighting robots and tiny rats is only broken up by gimmicky boss fights. These include such exciting game-play as avoiding a giant rat until it rams its head into a wooden gate, and turning off inexplicable poison gas outlets that will likely kill you in completely new and frustrating ways. Ultimately, combat in Woolfe is nowhere near as polished as its jumping segments and often takes up time that could have been put to better use elsewhere.
So I mentioned the story back in the intro, but is it really all that bad? Yes and no. From the opening cut-scene, Woolfe has trouble deciding if it is a straight parody of the sort of grim fairy-tale movies and books, such as “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” or “Beastly“, that have been in vogue for the last few years—or one of their kind. This leads to things like Red constantly offering snarky commentary at strange moments—even outside cinemas, and waxing longingly as she recounts just how tragic her past was, or how much her hometown has fallen apart under Woolfe’s rule. This sort of dramatic take on things is often cringe-inducing at worst, and unintentionally hilarious at best and while this can be amusing at first, it quickly grows tiresome as Red quips endlessly while the player only grows more and more tired of her antics. Perhaps If the game could decide if it was a parody or not, it would be much more interesting, but the complete inability to choose a single narrative tone ultimately hurts the game by making you care very little for its goofy characters and story, as they are treated with dire seriousness.
I will say that despite all of its flaws, Woolfe’s music, sound, voice acting, and art are all top notch and well deserving of praise. It is sad that the rest of the game does not nearly line up with the standards the audio and visual presentation it provides.
In all, episode 1 of the Red Hood Diaries is a solid platformer that is unfortunately marred by a series of bad game mechanics and an uneven story both in tone and overall writing. With any luck, future installments will improve upon this ultimately fun base product and deliver a game worth recommending to fans of the genre, but for now this is a game I’d personally skip.