Review: Almightree29 Aug 2014 0
Terrible puns are a point of pride here at Pocket Tactics [our rec league jai alai team is called The Groan Gunmen -- ed.], but we might have been outdone by Almightree, a game about an arboreal magician who navigates a crumbling landscape using a technique called plantsportation. Surely our puns can sink no lower! [don't test me -- ed.]
But boy is this a gorgeous game, cel-shaded pastels juxtaposing vibrant colors against the terror of a dying world. The overlong opening cutscene might trick you into thinking this is a story-heavy experience, but as soon as you actually start playing you will realize the narrative is little more than window dressing to a pretty typical puzzle game. Unfortunately, Almightree’s roots are too shallow to sustain its beauty for long.
In a setup that will surely have Bastion fans cocking a suspicious eyebrow, the world of Almightree is literally falling out from beneath the feet of the lone protagonist. You must use your magic to restore the 20 seedlings of the Almightree to restore the collapsing scenery.
The apocalypse (as they tend to do with most things) makes travel a bit of a hassle. The path to the Almightrees is a difficult one, marred by impassable gaps and insurmountable walls. Thankfully you have the power of plantsportation (ugh), which lets you teleport blocks from one part of the level to the other.
Most of the puzzles have you figuring out which blocks you can move, where they are supposed to be, and how you can reach them. You’ll build stairs and bridges out of wood blocks while maneuvering around their immovable metal cousins. On normal difficulty these puzzles are usually pleasantly brain teasing without ever being truly taxing. Yet one maddening flaw makes the whole thing much more frustrating than it needs to be. The puzzles are timed.
Yes, if you dawdle too long figuring out a solution the world starts to shake, eventually falling out beneath your feet, sending you back to the beginning of the level. Sure this creates a sense of urgency, but when you’re forced to re-solve three or four puzzles thanks to being not quite nimble enough it quickly starts to grate.
The last few levels are especially annoying. They introduce challenges that require timing and reflexes as well as cleverness, but the game is too clumsy to handle this gracefully. Almightree is yet another victim of a classic problem. Its controller-less controls lack tactile feedback, making precise maneuvers difficult.
The time limits and awkward controls make Almightree much harder than it needs to be. It is difficult without ever offering a satisfying challenge. The solutions to puzzles are mostly small variations on the same theme. You’ll move blocks endlessly and repetitively, not because you’re struggling to find the solution but because the solution is kind of tedious. Great puzzles make the time between the “aha moment” and the final solution as quick as possible to prevent players from getting bored, and Almightree’s ceaseless block-shuffling is nothing but padding.
And yet it’s a charming time when it’s not so frustrating. Even the loading screens are beautiful Van Goghesque images, and the fact that they’re collected in a gallery seems to imply the devs know their aesthetics will be the selling point for many.
It’s style over substance, sure, but there’s so much style here that it might still be worth picking up. The game’s outer coating is more substantial than what lies beneath -- the Almightree’s bark is better than its bite.
Almightree: The Last Dreamer was played on an iPhone 5s for this review.