Developer: Upper Byte Studio
Publisher: Neko Entertainment
Platform: Wii U, PC
Release Date: July 24, 2014 (Wii U)
ESRB: E 10+
This review is based on the Wii U version of the game
Japanese settings don't seem incredibly common in today's games (at least the ones developed outside of Japan), especially in the platforming realm, but Wooden Sen'SeY attempts to rectify this with its focus on a heavily feudal Japanese-themed landscape and scenario infused with a bit of a goofy plot. Add in some impressive visuals and art, and it seems like the combination would be a no-brainer, but unfortunately the game's mechanics make it more than just a bit difficult to enjoy.
You play as Village Chief Goro, who is out for revenge at the outset after his alcohol is stolen by shadow creatures. It's the thinnest of plots but it becomes evident that Wooden Sen'SeY isn't exactly the most serious of games anyhow. Axe in hand, Goro sets off to eliminate any shadow creature in his way. It's worth noting that the game doesn't really give the enemies a name, so I just call them that due to the fact that they look like shadow creatures. Some are small, round, and float in the air while others are more human-like and wear Japanese garb and wield weapons such as spears and the like.
The game itself is a mostly by-the-books platformer where you run to the right, jump between platforms, and attack anything in your way, but there is an interesting gameplay element that makes the experience a bit more unique. At certain points, you'll make use of Goro's grappling hook to get across large gaps or even to scale walls and such; these are by far the most interesting parts of the game, especially since much of the rest of the game's levels are very vanilla in design.
What makes this aspect more interesting is that Upper Byte Studio attempted to include some unique functionality regarding this in the Wii U version with the Gamepad's accelerometer, so shifting the pad in the direction Goro is swinging in will help him gain momentum. Also included as Gamepad functionality is the ability to quickly thrust the the Gamepad forward and downward (as if you're putting a book down) while jumping for a ground pound and higher jump; however, the same can be achieved through the use of buttons as well.
Unfortunately, the game stumbles majorly in one big area—the reach of Goro's axe(s) is virtually non-existent and requires you to be literally right next to an enemy in order to damage them. I'm unsure if Upper Byte did this intentionally (perhaps to increase the difficulty level) but more often than not, this design makes it difficult to tell when you're getting too close and thus damaged if you touch an enemy. Because of this, some enemies are extremely difficult to land hits on, especially bats or other flying enemies. Fortunately there are some secondary weapons you can collect and use in certain levels, such as throwing stars and bombs, but these often come in short supply.
Further aggravating the point about the combat being too close for comfort is the fact that there are usually several areas in each level where you'll have to fight a number of various shadow creatures before you can proceed (much like old-school 2D brawlers used to do). It isn't that the combat is near impossible; it's just extremely irritating and was easily the lowest point of the game for me, especially in the later levels. A shame too, because while the combat leaves a lot to be desired, the rest of the game's design during levels is mildly enjoyable between bouts of platforming and grappling across gaps and up the sides of walls.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, are the visuals and art direction, which add up to being one of the game's best aspects. This is especially the case early on with the Japanese-inspired countrysides, colorful backgrounds, and bloom effects (incorporating such things as falling cherry blossom buds and such) all of which create a wonderfully cartoonish-looking world. Even the game's menus and GUI have an appealing look to them.
Wooden SenSeY is a game that I really wanted to like, but unfortunately its unbalanced gameplay and combat really hinders much of the experience. It's completely playable, but a lot of it is aggravating and feels rather unoptimized for the best experience possible. The actual design isn't incredibly inspired either, but there are flashes of good moments throughout; namely, the grappling sequences. It's also quite short; you can finish the game's 9 stages in as little as 2 hours or less, though Upper Byte did include achievements for those who want to extend the game a bit longer. For what it's worth, Wooden Sen'SeY could have been so much more and, unfortunately, the experience ultimately ends up feeling true to its name: wooden.
+ Some beautiful artwork and backgrounds throughout
+ Certain aspects can be fun such as using the grappling hook
- Most of the platforming is rather dull
- The short reach of Goro's axes make combat unbearable
- Plot is barely understandable; no explanation of anything
Overall Score: 5.5 (out of 10)
Wooden Sen'SeY looks nice during certain sections throughout, but has glaring issues with its gameplay. Look elsewhere if you're wanting a competent platformer to play.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Wii U code provided by the publisher.