- Format: Wii U (version reviewed), PC
- <b>Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Neko Entertainment
- Developer: Upper Byte Studio
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.upperbyte.com/en/wooden_sensey
Many games have proven recently that it’s still possible to create a compelling and inventive 2D platformer decades after both the genre’s inception and decline. Super Meat Boy did it by pushing players to their limits with teeth-grinding challenges, while the more recent Shovel Knight exceeded expectations with a fresh take on, and flawless execution of, beloved mechanics. Upper Byte Studio’s Wooden Sen’SeY, on the other hand, is a prime example of what happens when you bring nothing new to the table.
Wooden Sen’SeY – yes, it’s actually spelled like that – isn’t a bad game, it’s just an incredibly dull and pedestrian one in just about every conceivable way. There is very little plot to get invested in outside of an opening cutscene, which sees a flying shadow steal the hero Goro’s stores of what is presumably sake. There’s not a single thread of narrative throughout the rest of the game. That may have worked back when the manual detailed the wicked King Koopa’s nefarious deeds of kidnapping princesses and turning people into brick blocks, but even Super Meat Boy managed a lot more with a lot less.
Perhaps this was down to that game’s cast, a colourful triumvirate whose simple designs lent themselves to expression. That certainly isn’t the case here as character and enemy design is universally terrible. Goro himself is little more than a blob in a straw hat, and the enemies are literal blobs without the straw hat. Some of them are wearing clothes or carrying weapons, but they are still little black orbs with glowing yellow eyes. Even the nefarious sake thief ends up being a palette swap of Goro himself.
The nine levels are a little better in that regard since they feature a lot of diversity, ranging from villages and dungeons to airships and factories. While they are a lot more vibrant and detailed, they still don’t elicit much of a response, since they’re just backgrounds that simply sort of fade from your awareness very quickly.
Which brings us to what is by far the most groan-inducing and mundane part of the game itself: the actual gameplay! Goro has very few abilities at his disposal. You can jump, you can use your axe to attack in remarkably short swings, and you can throw your axe into the air to swing from the platforms above you. You can combine the jump and attack to throw your axes beneath your wooden fella, which will grant his jump a little boost and hurt anything beneath him. You can also pick up projectiles such as shuriken and bombs and throw them around.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a limited moveset; Shovel Knight used two buttons and we gave that a perfect score. The difference is that Wooden Sen’SeY doesn’t use them in any way that can be conceived as remotely interesting due to the level design.
It’s nothing but tests of timing that aren’t done very well. There’ll be spikes to jump over, turning platforms to jump on, and treadmills to slow you down. You’ve done all of it before, but in Wooden Sen’SeY there’s not a single thing to enjoy about it: It’s not exciting, it’s not pretty, and it’s certainly not challenging.
The only thing that resembles a challenge is when combat encounters are designed to be artificially so. For example, one encounter sees a projectile-throwing enemy sitting on a platform positioned so that you will get hit by it and sent crashing back down.
The combat itself however is almost offensively trite and simple: You can just run at enemies, swinging your axe around, and you’ll kill them before they get an attack off. The enemies also seem to be coded rather poorly as you can just cheese them by standing on their head and then using Goro’s jump attack until they die. Even the final boss, that sake-stealing scum, can be easily disposed of without taking a single hit.
Simple combat can be fine if it’s at least flashy, but Wooden Sen’SeY yet again fails there. Goro’s attacks do nothing to make the player feel powerful, they’re just sort of pathetic flails with very little reaction from their victims. Not allowing players to do the elevating down-attack more than once in a jump is also a huge missed opportunity; it could have been fun to jump around killing enemies like that.
As mentioned earlier, Goro also has the ability to swing from the ceiling with his axe. For some reason you have to swing the gamepad around to do this – there’s no option to use the stick. If you’re playing on the gamepad’s screen itself, that’s just not a great way to do it. That’s a pretty major oversight. It also simply doesn’t work in one level where it’s required to traverse a bunch of rotating wheels: They’ll either detach themselves or not reach the next wheel due to their tiny range, sending you crashing back down to the start of the vertical level for some of that lovely artificial difficulty.
The game actually has a somewhat decent soundtrack. While most of the songs are instantly forgettable, there are two that hold up as entertaining pieces of music. Perhaps the best part of Wooden Sen’SeY though is its mercifully short length. The game can be easily beaten in roughly two hours. Actually, that’s not really a good thing, either. If you love tedium, however, the game has a time trial mode that will extend that.
Remember when you used to plan out your own awful Super Mario Bros. levels full of spike traps and swinging blades on graph paper in primary school? Wooden Sen’SeY seems to be a manifestation of that without any updates in the twenty years between; if you have a 2D platformer itch that needs scratching, you’ll be far better off looking elsewhere.