Games that look like they are made from the contents of grandma’s sewing box are always a delight to look at. Fields that look like they are knitted with big buttons and random items sewn into the environment makes you feel like you have jumped into the world from the Borrowers. Woven is not the first game to take on this visual style and it is up against some steep competition.
Woven is based around a character called Stuffy. A shy stuffed animal who is portrayed as being very childlike and innocent. He meets a robotic friend called Glitch and together they begin their adventure to the moon.
It is clear from the very start that this game is targeting a very young audience. The levels are simplistic, the language used is well written but very accessible to those with a limited vocabulary. The difficulty level and almost every other aspect of the game are quite easy and tailored to the needs of small children.
Parents playing this with their children will find some enjoyment in it too. As far as games for kids go, this is one seems to tick all the boxes. The main problem is that anyone who is older than 6 or 7 and doesn’t have any kids, will likely be bored to death playing it.
The main character, Stuffy starts out as a gray elephant. As you progress you will unlock new patterns and fabrics to change your appearance, quite similar to the character customisation options in LittleBigPlanet. As an elephant, you are quite strong and can stomp and push things. One thing elephants aren’t good at is jumping, this is where the game does something quite cool.
You can change the animal that your character looks like in order to unlock different abilities of this animal. When you get to a point where you need to jump over obstacles, you will obtain a deer like animal who can easily jump over things.
It seems a bit strange that the cute little elephant now looks like a pig, but what really stands out is how the game justifies this change. It tries to explain, and I will paraphrase here, that it doesn’t matter what Stuffy looks like on the outside, so long as he has his eyes, it’s still the same old Stuffy. Makes for quite a nice metaphor that a child can understand that someone’s outward appearance doesn’t define who they are.
The entire game is narrated in a story book style. A male voice will tell the story in the form a rhyming monologue. A style very often used in children’s movies. The writing is very clever at times in that it tells the story, is easily understandable by children but is not so dumbed down that an adult will still enjoy it.
What makes the storytelling so much better is how it subtly adds moral elements for Stuffy to get through that leads to a valuable lesson being learned. One in particular was how Stuffy was afraid of the cave, but Glitch wanted to go through. It was unfair of Glitch to make Stuffy do something he didn’t want to and explains how they worked it out. It might seem a little cheesy, but for children, you would much rather have them learn these values than to learn the best way to kill an enemy soldier.
Children tend not to be too critical of these kinds of things, but as an adult, there are a large amount of technical flaws with the design of this game. The first issue is with the movement of the main character.
The running animation for Stuffy is very limited. If you do not have the thumb stick going forward perfectly, you will notice that you start to run at an angle, fairly standard stuff, but the animation does not show this. You can have your character running diagonally, but the animation shows him running forward, almost like he is moon walking. If you have ever played any early Bethesda games like Fallout 3 or Oblivion in 3rd person mode, you will understand this and how terrible it looks.
The level design is incredibly simple and lacks detail. It would have been nice if the fields could have been decorated with more than just a few trees and flowers. Some flowing grass, larger plants, rocks and proper terrain to make the world feel alive. Hills don’t look like hills, they look like someone just jacked up the terrain height in a map editor, stretching the texture in the process. It makes the game feel more like a map for Garry’s Mod than an actual game.
The open fields are full of lumps and bumps, it doesn’t look too bad, because the world is wool, but it feels like these lumps should have been textured. Stuffy will often get stuck on a bump for no reason. It isn’t that steep but for some reason he cant run up it. It is more than likely a case of an invisible wall blocking you from reaching an area you shouldn’t. It’s another example of how the world needed to be decorated better so that invisible walls didn’t need to be used to block players.
Every now and then you will encounter an obstacle that will halt your progression You will need to solve a puzzle or do something to make your way through. For a game that is meant for children, these tend to be a little awkward to execute. One puzzle involved making a whale jump out of the ocean at the right time. Never once was it obvious you needed to use the whale for this. Same with another involving large mammoths. Easy for an adult who has played a lot of games, but there was no nudge to help a child.
There are music boxes that unlock new appearances for Stuffy the main issue. On top of being very basic and boring, the game doesn’t explain what to do. The timing required is beyond what a young child would have the dexterity for.
As an artistic piece of work, Woven does a lot of things right, but it doesn’t come close to the level of quality we see in games like LittleBigPlanet and Yoshi’s Woolly World. Having played the Switch version, the visual quality is quite poor. The resolution is low and blurry. I had initially thought it was because I was playing it in handheld mode, but it looks just as bad when it is docked. This is more than likely another issue that will not be an issue for the games target audience, but it has to be noted.
It seems like quite a few design decisions were made that turned this game from being something that could be enjoyed by a larger audience to something that only a very small age group would get any enjoyment from. While it is great that there is a game that can be introduce very young children to gaming, some effort should have been made to make this game a little more enjoyable for all ages.