This bright and breezy endeavour throws out the platformer rulebook in hope of giving gamers a fresh experience, going as far to cast aside combat, health bars, and even the ability to die.
Instead, there’s a focus on puzzle-solving and exploration. Or rather, puzzle-solving and wandering – Woven favours wide and open environments, the kind seldom seen in a platformer. Even the controls are irregular for the genre, using an icon-driven interface for every interaction, no matter how trivial.
Set in a world coated with wool, you play as Stuffy – a timid and lonely stuffed toy – who accidentally stumbles into a picturesque valley, only to find unusual mechanical machines ruining the landscape. It’s here he meets Glitch, a small robotic firefly that seems to have lost its memory.
Together they traverse the woollen worlds trying to find their place in life, with Glitch able to interface with machines and light up dark areas, while Stuffy can carry items, stomp the ground, push objects, and generally throw his weight around.
The whole shebang is narrated in rhyme, lending a slight Banjo-Kazooie-esque vibe. While it’s easy to appreciate the work that went into this – every cut-scene, event, and significant discovery is narrated – the male narrator’s voice is far from buttery smooth. Some wordy and unwieldy sentences also drag it down, fudged together for the sake of rhyming in verse.
As damning as this may sound, the rhyming narration still adds much to the experience, amplifying its twee and carefree nature. It also helps that the friendship-driven story is rather intriguing, with both Glitch and Stuffy learning more about their existence as they journey towards the heart of the problem – a giant mechanical moon.
It soon transpires that the newly discovered machines are for sewing, allowing Stuffy – an elephant by default – to transform into different animals. Hidden blueprints are required beforehand, however, involving a short and simple rhythm-action mini-game to unlock.
Each animal has its own skillset, and as time goes on it becomes crucial to mix-and-match body parts to gain the skills required to progress. You may need to use a bird’s squawk along with a rhino’s stomp to solve a puzzle, for instance. Glitch can also scan patterns – one of many collectables – which not only allows for further customisation but are also used to create enemy-avoiding disguises.
The opening world is surprisingly large and subsequently easy to become lost in, with many meadows and ravines appearing similar to one another. Indeed, a large open world wasn’t perhaps the best environment to learn the slightly wayward mechanics and means of progression, this being a very different experience to other 3D platform adventures.
Later worlds are more welcoming, thankfully. The second is more linear, while the third introduces a means to get around quicker, making exploration more enjoyable. Without spoiling too much, the fourth stage features a minor twist while also showcasing some more traditional level design reminiscent of the typical N64 platformer.
The fifth stage then brings everything you’ve learned together for one all-encompassing multi-layered puzzle; the kind almost guaranteed to result in head-scratching. Each stage takes just over an hour to complete, giving a reasonable runtime of 5-6 hours.
In lieu of combat and the ability to jump around freely (only smaller, nimbler, animals can jump and only at certain locations), much of Woven is spent wandering around looking for blueprints and the next obstacle to overcome. Cartoon-like speech bubbles appear when close something that can be collected or interacted with, making them hard – although not impossible – to miss.
Less positive is the fact that many environments are bland and featureless, filled with long and winding paths to slowly plod along, many of which are dead ends. Not only this, but some blueprints and collectables are placed on top of mountains or such, requiring not just a casual stroll to the top, but an arduous journey back down. All ledges are surrounded by invisible barriers, which when accompanied by the inability to freely jump, makes shortcuts impossible.
In conjunction with the open environments, the heavy focus on collectables – a total of fifty per world, including around thirty patterns – makes for an experience with a lot of backtracking. Often, you’ll finally discover a puzzle area, or simply a collectable to grab, but will then find Stuffy doesn’t have the right skill assigned currently, resulting in a trek to the nearest sewing machine.
On a minor note, the achievements/trophies are tied into finding all collectables within a world, but annoyingly, there’s no way to replay past areas. Even after beating the game, you’re simply presented with the option to start anew – no progress is carried over. Adding to these woes (for achievement hunters, at least) you’re never informed when you’re about to reach a point of no return, forcing you to collect everything in one linear playthrough.
Given how large the worlds are, it’s not just a substantial undertaking for those who want to collect everything, but also a huge oversight.
By tearing up the platformer rulebook, Woven does feel suitably different. Perhaps even unique. However, by refusing to play by the rules it’s also missing a few fundamentals. There’s no combat to help break up the tedium of blueprint hunting, and the inability to die (being captured is the worst thing that can happen to poor Stuffy) makes for an experience that’s a little unrewarding.
The challenge simply lies within the puzzles – matching symbols, flicking levers, and a spot of rhythm-action, mostly – and searching high and low for patterns and blueprints, with very few pointers or vocal prompts along the way. Smaller, more focused, worlds would’ve instantly eliminated many of Woven’s problems. Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
Woven is one of those rare games that constantly flitters between being middling and good. The concept of shapeshifting is implemented well, and the five worlds are remarkably different from one another, each standing out from the last. Younger gamers may also enjoy customizing Stuffy with various colours and patterns. But ultimately, it’s too experimental for its own good. The icon-driven interface, in particular, makes it feel a little dated and restrictive. It’s all a bit woolly, aptly enough.
It’s hard to recommend it to PlayStation 4 and Switch owners when so many similar, and better, games feature within their respective libraries. Xbox One owners seeking something family-friendly may want to give it a look though. There’s definitely a gap in the market on Microsoft’s platform for something like this, and while this doesn’t fit snugly, it’s still warm and welcoming enough.