Raven’s Hike

Sometimes, first impressions stick. That initial thought upon seeing screenshots or a trailer – they never really leave you. But sometimes, they’re utterly bogus; and I’m really glad this was the case with Raven’s Hike. Screenshots looked rather Celeste-esque, suggesting the devs played Celeste Classic 2 – Lani’s Trek and decided for themselves, “yeah let’s make the full version of that ourselves”. Or so it appeared at first, as ostensibly a platform game with a similar female protagonist and a grapple hook mechanic for traversal. And I’m glad to have been proven wrong.

Immediately, Raven’s Hike does indeed have that general aesthetic, the pixel art is reminiscent of Celeste’s in a good way, although not totally. But that’s literally where the similarities both start and end, as that grapple mechanic is a completely different beast entirely. You see, I wouldn’t call this a platform game as such, it’s more a puzzler along the lines of the various homebrew efforts by RetroSouls. It has more than a bit of Old Towers about it, as it’s played entirely on the cardinal directions of the d-pad, which extends the grapple to whichever wall is in that direction and zips Raven herself over to it. There’s no traditional jumping or walking left/right for that matter, just zipping across the stages with the grapple hook and that’s it.

This simple mechanic betrays a more-complicated game, as it’s in the level design where it shows its colours; even as early as the chapter selection screen, basic movement to specific places on the single-screen stages requires a little thought and, often, timing as the grapple ‘zip’ can be interrupted mid-flow. And it will need to be, as the puzzles are as much about timing as they are planning an efficient route.

Raven’s Hike comprises four chapters, each comprised of sixteen screens of grappling action, with each chapter nicely drip-feeding a new mechanic to the player until its maximum complexity is reached. That’s followed by a final climb up a tower to… something that’s never really explained. It doesn’t matter, this game is more puzzles and less plot.

The aforementioned mechanics are pretty standard-fare: delivered deftly with a nice difficulty curve, introduced one at a time with enough space between to really understand them; from orbs which must all be collected to open the exit, to blocks that fall with Raven’s weight, to tracking enemy blob things that are completely fatal until Raven earns a sword at the end of the fourth chapter, which only serves to lessen the threat of said blobs. Although this doesn’t make the game easy.

The difficulty is fair, until the end. Given the single-screen nature of the four chapters, dying and retrying is nigh-instant – definitely fast enough to avoid any real frustration – and zipping along a new and hopefully better route to beat the level – “this time, surely.” And then, there’s the end – a tower climb, dozens of screens high, scrolling upward with the final accursed mechanic: checkpoints.

The addition of checkpoints is more than welcome as this final tower is quite the slog. They’re spaced out, more than a screen apart each in general, and the whiplash I got from the pleasant single-screen puzzles to this veritable gauntlet of annoying trial-and-error was considerable. However, it’s right at the end so this isn’t the worst thing that could happen. The entire thing could be this cursed.

It isn’t the only problem I had, either. I briefly mentioned the timing aspect of the game, the virtue of being able to switch grapple direction mid-zip; this is where the bulk of Raven’s challenge comes from. Although early screens can be observed and planned at the player’s leisure, later layouts essentially demand accurate timing of mid-zip course corrections, which can often be more luck than judgment due to how quickly this has to be done at times.

I certainly don’t envy people whose display devices lag, this may cause some problems even the best of reaction times can’t fix. Although some of this is mitigated by the ability to cling to a wall or ceiling by holding the direction, they’re in relative to the player sprite, so it’s not all bad.

It’s not even half bad. I quite liked Raven’s Hike in the end, final climb notwithstanding. That pixel aesthetic reads incredibly clearly, and the sound does its job well enough to blend totally into the surroundings, helping get into the flow of things. When it’s good, Raven’s Hike is a pleasant little puzzler whose single mechanic provides a nice focus to get the brain meats doing their thing. When it’s not, you’re swearing at checkpoints as you attempt to navigate a moving hazard with perfect timing for the thirtieth time on that upward crawl at the end.

There are even collectible golden feathers on some of the stages to come back to for a break in the repetition, should you wish to change it up a bit. But there’s little more than that. Whereas I’m glad my first impressions didn’t stick, maybe a lasting impression won’t either. What’s here is nice enough, the final tower climb aside, but it isn’t mind-blowing or groundbreaking. It’s just nice.

Published by QUByte Interactive, Raven’s Hike is out now on all formats.

SCORE
7

Jay X Trent

Multimedia artist with delusions of game development rockstardom. Often the biggest Sonic fan in the room. Any room.

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