Mable is a young girl with an extraordinary gift: she can transform into the beasts she slays.
A metroidvania at its heart, Mable & The Wood is about exploring a dying world using the eponymous character’s creaturely abilities. In keeping with the conventions of the genre, you unlock these powers from defeating bosses which are used to traverse areas initially off-bounds. One such boss in the first few hours is a giant spider which unlocks the ability to use a web to swing across large caverns.
Mable is too weak to carry a sword effectively. She drags it along the ground—encumbered by its arduous weight—to where it’s impossible to jump or run. You instead shapeshift into different forms that take the place of traditional movement. Fairy form allows you to drop your weapon, fly over an enemy’s head and recall it, God of War-style, to kill everything in its trajectory. It feels fun to fling a blade through three enemies at once and is a great example of using something conventional in an unconventional way.
To accompany every gained ability comes new sets of challenges. Taking a page out of Mario’s book of level design, each area introduces a mechanic or foe, and gradually eases you into it as you learn how to counter it until it eventually becomes a regular part of the game. This can range from electrified flooring to unbeatable ghost enemies. It prevents everything from feeling stale too early on, as progressing into the next stage always feels fresh and exciting.
With some abilities that seemingly almost break the game entirely, Mable & The Wood comes with its share of faults. Primarily, there are heaps of clipping bugs present when you try to navigate at certain moments. Mole form, a shapeshift that allows Mable to burrow through walls and floors for a short amount of time, has many problems with this. Attempting to reach specific places would sometimes dump me into inaccessible, off-bounds areas that would either instantly kill me or soft lock the game.
The currency system—in which Mable collects diamonds scattered throughout her adventure and spends them at shops—is also flawed. While the potions that can be bought offer great bonuses to health and energy, the act of collecting enough to purchase them is frustrating. Getting hit by an enemy causes you to lose about a dozen of these with only a tiny window to recover them. With torch pedestals used as checkpoints, Mable uses a soulslike mechanic of being able to restore everything from where you last died, but even then it’s difficult to save up to buy a potion (not to mention the amount of deaths due to bugs). I ended up mostly ignoring this by the end.
If there’s something to fall in love with in Mable, however, it’s the gorgeous art and soundtrack that balances beauty and dread in its fairy tale portrayal of the kingdom and surrounding woodland. The woods feel both magical and claustrophobic, begging you to continue exploring but with a hint of danger as each new monster and hazard is introduced. The moodier lighting in underground areas enhances the atmosphere which, along with the increased number of hazards, creates an unsettling aura of fear.
A bold, beautiful adventure like no else from this year, Mable & The Wood weaves in and out of different ideas with none ever overstaying their welcome. Overall, I really enjoyed the amount of freedom a title like this can offer. Some puzzles can be skipped entirely thanks to certain abilities, and not only is it possible to beat the story without ever killing a single enemy, but it also unlocks a secret ending. This is an endlessly fascinating game and I don’t doubt I’ll be playing it through many more times.
Tested on PC
Also available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Developer Triplevision Games
Publisher Graffiti Games
Disclosure a copy of Mable & The Wood was supplied by Triplevision Games