Developer Cococucumber rounds off their ‘voxel trilogy’ with this Alice in Wonderland inspired sword-swinging adventure. You may be pushed hard to tell that it features voxel visuals at times, as a lot of the backdrop elements use regular, everyday, polygons. We’re not sure if this was to accelerate development or an artistic choice, but when the two start styles clash it does make for an experience that’s often eye-catching. Even our young heroine – christened Ravenlok upon stepping into a fantasy realm – has a mixture of graphic styles, blessed with pixel art facial features.
The story begins in the present, with Ravenlok’s parents unloading a removal van as they relocate to a country homestead belonging to a late relative. After completing a few chores, Ravenlok stumbles across a magical mirror – or looking glass, if you will – that leads to a fantasy realm. In typical fairy-tale fashion, this world is in dire need of a hero, feeling the wrath of an egocentric Queen.
With a distinct dislike for the realm’s white rabbit population in particular, the rampaging royal turns the once friendly woodland critters hostile – creating an army of adversaries in the process.
To thwart the Queen’s plans, our adolescent hero must seek three stone hearts – each located in a different governed area. Over the course of this 5-6 hour adventure you’ll get to meet, and defeat, several characters from the works of Lewis Carroll, including a tag-team battle against Tweedledum and Tweedledee. NPCs are quite talkative, giving insight into their predicaments. Ravenlok not so much, often concise with her responses.
Light puzzle solving also features, usually involving finding and matching symbols, or similar logic-based endeavors.
In keeping with the Alice in Wonderland theme, looking glasses function as fast travel portals, with one found in every location. You’re forced to backtrack to the forest starting zone regularly, as it’s here where the potion vendor, collectible exchange, and experience point trader are located – meaning you can only ‘level up’ by returning to this zone, and need to keep reminding yourself to revisit. A second item vendor is found just outside the central hub – a Victorian mansion – where several quest-giving NPCs dwell, with branching paths that lead to the three main locations. You’ll be returning to this location often too.
Even without the addition of fast travel, the game world doesn’t take long to traverse – the main locations are small-scale, formed of just a handful of areas. Ravenlok dashes around with a sense of urgency too, making for an experience that is surprisingly fast paced. Boss battles occur so frequently that at times it even has a slight ‘boss rush’ feel. This is particularly true of the clock tower area, which entails boss fights against colossal mechanical birds on each floor.
Progression is, consequently, swift – an hour session will see you making good headway, clearing off quests and sub-quests with haste, and rarely five minutes pass without an achievement unlocking.
Things start out slightly challenging as Ravenlok can only withstand a few hits and most enemies take several sword swings to defeat. By the halfway mark, however, the difficulty level briskly falls – to the point where even some larger bosses can be beaten effortlessly by milling under their feet and hammering the attack button, or by running around while waiting for cooldowns to expire. An inventory full of health potions soon amasses, and because smashable pots and vases reappear when returning to a location, it’s easy to acquire a stockpile of coins – which can then be spent on single-use bombs and extra potions.
Progress often comes to a standstill while Ravenlok battles several waves of enemies. Although fundamentally sound, combat is more flashy than satisfying. Our nimble lead can dodge and block, and over the game’s duration four heavy hitting cooldown attacks are unlocked – duly assigned to RB/LB and RT/LT – with the first being a homing projectile. Using a bomb sees the action pause, giving chance to pick a target, which does spoil the flow of battle somewhat. Enemies also often become ‘stun locked’, allowing you to simply wail on them until they die.
While Ravenlok is both easy going and easy to get into, mostly thanks to its inviting premise, it also feels less of a colossal adventure and more like a humble escapade. The pace is so brisk that you’re whisked off to the next location with no time to dwell on the events that just unfolded, and there’s some arbitrary key item placement too. It certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. On the contrary – I would have liked to have spent more time in Ravenlok’s world.
Despite its brevity (or perhaps because of it) this is an easy recommend to younger gamers, or to families that game together – the lax difficulty, vibrant visuals, and its non-violent nature all cater to this. Through the eyes of a child, it may seem a touch more magical than through those of a jaded adult too.
Cococucumber’s Ravenlok is out May 4th on Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC.