With family friendly games still often limited to licensed toy and movie tie-ins, an original creation like Woven is a game that immediately piqued my interest. There’s certainly some visual nods to the likes of Yarny from Unravel or the woollier Yoshi and Kirby games, but the story and setting of Woven are entirely original and promise an enjoyable slice of 3D adventuring. Unfortunately, almost as soon as the game began, this promise began to unravel.
Woven is a rare example of a game that manages to look better in static screenshots than in motion. The environments are generally bland and uninspired, levels needlessly spread out so that navigating them takes minutes of pointless walking, and this really isn’t helped by how slow the playable character is. This is improved slightly when you unlock a flying ability – actually just gliding about a foot above the ground – but this then has other negative effects because of a restrictive approach to skill selection.
There is a clear sense of the artistic design here, but everything lacks the kind of polish that the aforementioned titles possess. It’s obviously not entirely fair to judge a small independent studio against such competition, but unfortunately the comparisons are too clear to ignore.
You play as a cute woollen toy called Stuffy who, accompanied by Glitch the mysterious flying robot, goes out into the world to find out what happened to all the other woollen creatures and to stop the robotic menace that is rapidly unpicking the world around him. This tale of technophobia has clear analogies to climate change but the sense of peril is diminished by there being no risk of a game over. The game will take control and make Stuffy run from danger, and even in the occasional case where he can be devoured by monstrous robots, this just leads to small puzzle environments as he navigates his way out.
Stuffy is horrible to play as, though. The controls feel woolly and laggy, and without an accessibility option to invert the camera controls, I was fighting the camera for the whole game. This sluggish control system was exacerbated by the eccentric collision detection. Stuffy would often get stuck in the environment, gaps that were clearly large enough proved inaccessible, and there was little clear indication as to which slopes were traversable. All of this meant that much of the game is spent pushing up against the scenery to find the path.
While Stuffy begins with few abilities, you find hidden patterns that unlock different character designs as you progress. These revolve around mini-games that have you controlling a stitching machine, but there is no tutorial or guidance as to what you have to do which means the first time is far more complicated that it needs to be. Such an oversight seems particularly unfortunate in a game that seems designed to appeal to younger players.
Once you unlock a new character design – and these range from anteaters to parrots to rhinos – then you must find a different stitching machine to change your shape. Each shape has different characteristics such as jumping, pushing or grasping, all of which needed at different points of the game. Even though you can mix and match to a certain degree, leading to some hilariously grotesque chimeras, having no idea of what is to come leads to a lot of pointless backtracking across featureless environments to change Stuffy’s form. Given you have Glitch as a constant companion, it would have been far better for the robot to be able to change you on the fly to avoid so much joyless padding.
Woven does benefit from a good voiceover, although the skill of the actor is not backed up by the quality of the script. The attempt to provide a Pratchett or Adams style of sardonic British humour also falls a little flat as the game doesn’t always catch up with the dialogue or repeats lines seemingly at random. I couldn’t help feeling that much of the game felt like a proof of concept rather than a fully playtested experience. Whilst I pushed through to the end, I was ready to give up long before then.