Nostalgia is a powerful tool. It helps many iconic series of yore live long after their best years have well and truly passed, whether it is games, movies, books or any other medium. Redwall, the book series by British author Brian Jacques contain some of my most venerated novels. The young cats of today would be too busy reading Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, Harry Potter (good series) or simply not reading at all to even know what Redwall is. But for this fellow in his early 30s, Redwall represents a significant period of my childhood where the wonders of modern technology were not as ubiquitous as they are today, and as such our imaginations were vessels carried by the waves of powerful prose written by some of the most gifted storytellers of our time. Hell, I even had a fake band (I had a pseudonym for each member) that was named after the Redwall series that I recorded four albums for (each one as terrible as the next). So you can imagine my delight when I heard that a Redwall game was in development.
That was in 2013. It’s fairly safe to say that the development of the Redwall game, or Redwall: The Warrior Reborn (I am not sure if this is still the title or if it’s An Epic Tale of Redwall, the Soma Games website still lists it as The Warrior Reborn so we’ll go with that) as it’s titled hasn’t been smooth sailing. The game started as a Kickstarter project that was designed to give fans a Minecraft rendition of the famous Redwall Abbey, which would allow fans and backers to interact with Soma Games (developer) and each other as the larger project (The Warrior Reborn) was being crafted.
Almost five years later we have our first playable slice of The Warrior Reborn, the game’s first episode, titled An Epic Tale of Redwall: The Scout. The Scout is a new story that is set roughly six months before the events of Redwall the book and follows the paws of Sophia, a member of the Scout Corps as she flees from Scumsnout and his gang of sea rats after they destroyed her home and in Lilygrove. Sophia and her companions, Liam and Albert, must travel to Redwall Abbey to seek aid for those wounded at Lilygrove.
One thing that must be made clear is that although this is a playable version, it barely resembles a game – in fact calling it a game is being generous. That’s not having a dig at Soma Games as they are open and honest about what this release is and what it’s designed to do, which is principally to show fans and supporters their intent with the game and how far they’ve come as well as much is still left to do. Essentially you’re paying $9.99 USD to be an alpha tester until the episode is ready for full release. So if you go in expecting a fully functional episode then you’re going to be sorely let-down.
Did you ever see such a sight in your life?
The episode has a few working sequences. The first and primary one being Act II, Scene I, Old Moss Creek, which is close to being the finished product. This is where you take control of Sophia and use your scout training to ensure that you and your travel companions make it to Redwall Abbey safely. The demo build of Old Moss Creek – although close to completion – does not feature any enemies and is more about the player getting a feel for the game world, controls and (limited) mechanics. As such you’re free to explore Old Moss Creek without fear of stumbling across Scumsnout and his crew of malevolent sea rats. The playable build is quite short and can be knocked over within an hour, hopefully final version of the episode is a little longer.
No doubt I am not the only one who upon loading into Old Moss Creek for the first time gazed around and asked themselves ‘does this feel like the Redwall universe?’ It’s a tough question to answer as I simply I don’t know what I expected a Redwall game to look like. The episode’s fantastic soundtrack certainly helps players imagine being in the middle of the Redwall universe. The visuals themselves aren’t anything to write home about, though Old Moss Creek does have an oddly serene charm about it. Although character models are still work in progress it would be nice if Sophia had a little more colour to her, as right now she resembles a chocolate bunny of sorts.
The game’s controls are pretty easy to get the hang of. Being the console peasant I am I played with a controller, although my character did tend to walk forwards by herself which would indicate either my controller or the game’s controller support is having issues (sadly I don’t have access to another controller to test at this point). Sophia’s movement is fairly fluid, however when utilising the sprint/dash feature she becomes a bit hard to control.
Simple yet effective artwork
In terms of actual gameplay the Early Access build is fairly light on. Sophia will have to find ways to keep her team progressing on their journey, this includes lowering rope ladders, knocking barrels into rivers or using teamwork to remove an obstacle blocking a path. Whenever you progress past a key moment in the story you will be treated to a ‘cutscene’, which is a comic strip style narrative piece. Another big thumbs up goes to the design of the map. It’s not mind-blowing with detail, but the artwork style suits the Redwall theme. There are a number of mechanics that Soma Games want to implement into the final version, such as feasting (which is an integral part of Redwall). Hopefully these come to the Early Access version at some point.
Performance-wise the episode needs a fair amount of work. The framerate is choppier than the seas that Scumsnout and his bandits sailed in on, especially when sprinting through an area. There are also times when Sophia will hang in the air if she cannot make the distance of a jump or if you wander too far into some shrubbery, and in these instances there’s a fair chance you’ll glitch out and you’ll be sent back to an earlier checkpoint. These are to be expected given the game’s Early Access stage, but it highlights (as Soma Games have said) how much they still have to do.
Other modes that are included are a very barebones version of Act I, Scene III, Flight to the Lighthouse, which is a playable but raw version of a chase scene. With most of the environments still yet to be rendered, and with no villain chasing you, this is purely a sneak peek at the game’s development. There is also a Movement Lab, where players can get accustomed to the controls. Lastly, there’s the Redwall Gatehouse Library, which is a non-playable look at the famous library set inside Redwall. You can listen to a few different tracks from the soundtrack and change camera views for a different look at the environment.
In all honesty, if you’re not a fan of Redwall then you’re probably not going to be invested in this release (at least not in its current state). With any licensed product the biggest element is how well it pays homage to the source material. From what we have to go on from Episode 1 so far it would be unfair to make a judgement either way. A concerning factor is that despite being in development for almost five years we still have very little in the way of playable material (the final release could be years away still). However, there is potential in what Soma Games are developing, but the challenge that they face is to craft a universe that makes fans believe that this is Redwall. They’re on the right track, but there’s still a long way to go.
P.S. Read the books.
Early Access code supplied by publisher