Gather round, it’s story time:
Little Red Riding Hood walked into her grandmother’s bedroom and stood next to the bed, with her basket full of goodies hanging from her arm. Her granny was still bedridden, and lay bundled up in blankets and nightclothes.
“Hello child,” she croaked. “So good of you to come visit me.”
“Why granny,” said Red. “What cute aesthetics you have!”
“All the better to… wait what?
“And granny, what challenging puzzles you offer!”
“And granny, what a triumph for a local development team you are!”
“Are you on something?”
And so, The Big Bad Wolf got incredibly confused. He took off his stolen clothes, regurgitated Little Red’s grandmother, and left the house, muttering under his breath. Red Riding Hood continued rambling for some time.
The end. This didn’t work as well I expected for an intro. Whatever, here’s the review for A Day in the Woods.
A Day in the Woods is a puzzle game made by RetroEpic Software, a local development team based in Cape Town. It combines the story and setting of Little Red Riding Hood with sliding-block puzzle gameplay, all wrapped up in a charming aesthetic. Across 60 levels the objective is straightforward: collect all the flowers, and make it to granny’s house. However, the game is far from casual, or easy, and has some incredibly brain-melting scenarios on offer.
Gameplay is quick to grasp – players embody a sprite tasked with guiding Little Red across a board of hexagonal tiles, dodging hazards and grabbing collectibles. Simply by clicking, players swap tile positions and slowly shuffle the pieces into their target areas. It’s highly familiar gameplay, and by now most gamers have encountered one or two sliding-block puzzles in other games. Despite this familiarity, the game is incredibly fresh and original, and RetroEpic have taken full advantage of the genre to create some intensely difficult puzzles.
Part of the appeal of A Day in the Woods comes from mastering its various hazards and mechanics. New enemies or techniques are added to the puzzles as you go, and players are typically given a few levels to learn them before the difficulty spikes up. Each hazard and helpful mechanic has its own rules, and learning how to use all of them in conjunction with each other form the game’s toughest puzzles. The game teaches new features at a decent pace, but the difficulty can spike upwards alarmingly from time to time, creating some frustration.
An odd design choice of the game is that there is no failure state, nothing that triggers a “Game Over” screen. Furthermore, most threats are moved around by the player themselves, giving you control over where the danger is. These two elements sap away most of the tension or stress; enemies can’t surprise or work against you, and nothing you do results in outright failure. This means that ‘losing’ a level comes from a series of bad choices that slowly grinds your progress to a halt, and forces you to restart. You might not notice it at first, but being the one responsible for every failure becomes highly frustrating.
Presentation-wise, the game is gorgeous. The boards, characters, and other assets all look like wood-carved miniatures, and every one-screen model has terrific attention to detail. The music is peaceful and charming, but ultimately forgettable, although the other sound effects work well. The word “charming” doesn’t do this enough justice, and it is one of the cutest and most endearing games I’ve ever seen. So it’s a great shame that the game lacks camera controls of any sort. Being able to zoom or pan around a level would make the larger ones easier to take in, and it would give players a closer look at the lovingly-crafted 3D models.