The timing of this post could not be more ironic. Just before this, I reviewed a game so fast-paced that I could do little more than blink between each frame, requiring my full attention with each precise movement. Transitioning to The Treehouse Man, it feels like the world has stopped spinning, performing at a speed so gentle that it seemed to apologize for the stress the previous game gave my fluttering fingers. This is not, however, a statement on the difficult of The Treehouse Man—it proves to be a strength later on.
Quiet, melancholic, and provocative, this is a game that tries to provide an experience on an emotional level, harnessing the energy of human faith and resourcefulness reminiscent of reality. Though the characters are cast in pixelated shadows, their figures call upon the image of humanity, a growing tension between those who believe in the almighty and those who believe in themselves. The Treehouse Man tries to curate insightfulness with the gameplay creativity between a large variety of different playstyles. Thus, my faith becomes as followed: Will it be as I hoped it would be?
The Treehouse Man is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
I'll keep the story general, just as it is presented within the game: A small group of people are in danger. They have sent countless amounts of people off into the vast wilderness in search of The Treehouse Man, the holy savior of the people. You have been summoned to be the last hope of your people. With some added help along the way, you traverse the rivers along the forest in the hopes of obtaining salvation.
The decision to skim over the general synopsis should not be a sign of my disinterest, as the real meat worth looking into involves the character dialogue and opinions of the populace. All throughout the game (though in spurts; more on this later), one can discuss the nature of the world with people they meet up with, who offer stories of their origins and what said world means to them, whether in the current or in the past. The player can also pick up messages found in bottles while adventuring in the forest, which adds an additional layer of intrigue to the tension found within the game's narrative. An ample attempt to make the setting feel real and alive is made here, which is commendable, though in dire need of fine-tuning.
What becomes apparent with The Treehouse Man, which becomes a trend throughout nearly every aspect, is that it presents the general attempt at creating a variety of things to look forward to, but doesn't accomplish enough to make them feel entirely impactful. With the story, one can speak with characters within a campsite to get their perspective on the world and such, but only once, with their dialogue only changing dependent on the four campsites one can venture to throughout the game. This implies that characters only have four sets of dialogue they can provide, and a few characters who initially have dialogue are then relegated to shopkeeper or boat ornament. The messages in bottles one can collect offer an extra push to the conflict of "Should you believe or take fate into your own hands?" that permeates the narrative, but one can only collect seven in total, all of which can be acquired by about the halfway point of the game.
What the narrative tries to embody is also fairly on-the-nose with its themes. If one were to ever forget the type of atmosphere the game has, all they'd have to do is talk to anyone or read the messages from the bottle found throughout the journey. There is some pushback to the main moral—which is nice, seeing as not everyone chooses to do so—but ultimately, it's pretty heavily pushing for one side, which could potentially alienate the playerbase. The ending sequence does little to dispel this notion.
One of The Treehouse Man's main selling points is its unique perspective on gameplay, which combines a variety of different aspects and puts them all together. I recall seeing one review compare it to Undertale for this reason, specifically noting the use of turn-based combat combined with bullet-hell-esque dodging sequences. While the general energy and look of this game did little to remind me of the indie hit, I can agree that the gameplay has some semblance of similarity, though feels more akin to the industry standard. There's some combination of action, adventure, turn-based combat, RPG, and strategy to The Treehouse Man, which leads to a little good and a little bad.
Calling back to a previous point, there's a persistent negative criticism I could make of this game for its use of implementing the outline of various aspects without making much attempt to perfect them. There are sequences of this game where one can change the weaponry present on their vessel, upgrade said weapons, upgrade the companions they find on the way (all of which have passive and selectable abilities to aid the players), discover treasures in airborn/underground asides, level up and spend talents on a talent tree, and collect a variety of items to use in battle. This may seem like a lot—and it is—but none of it feels so substantial that it feels overwhelming. From another perspective, some may complain that it doesn't feel like enough. The Treehouse Man is a jack of all trades; adept at all, though a master of none.
Outside of resting at campsites and upgrading various equipment, a majority of the game will be spent out on various rivers, full of enemies to combat and items to retrieve. At the base level, the game is a turn-based RPG with elements of other genres seeping in, which makes the game a little intriguing. At this level, I think The Treehouse Man succeeds at making itself a fresh and exciting experience, despite a certain drawback I'll address later on. I was never outright bored battling, reading messages, experimenting with the weaponry, or exploring the further reaches of the decrepit world. Rather, I think this has a perfect difficulty to it: never too demanding, but expects one to grow naturally along with the progression of the game. It works tremendously well with this scenario and feels well-paced for its course.
One substantial complaint I have for the river excursions, however, is that they feel incredibly repetitive. Outside of the type of enemies found, the color of the background, and the accompanying soundtrack, accessing every river feels almost the exact same. Encounter an enemy, collect some stuff/find treasure, encounter an enemy, collect more stuff/find treasure, encounter an enemy, encounter another enemy/boss, find a major treasure/find a new path. Ad nauseam. Over and over. Continuously. Repeatedly. Over the course of the entire game. Only the final sequence provides some variety, such variety that would've served well at any point beforehand, though I suppose that would've made the final boss feel less impactful. Speaking of which, the final boss fight was pretty fun.
A final compliment to be given, which becomes more appreciable with a small team of developers, is that The Treehouse Man functions very well. I encountered no bugs or any blips in production throughout the game. It consistently played and looked like it was a labor of love, which feeds into my desire to continue the journey despite its shortcomings. There is the benefit of feeling as though the developer was trying to make an enjoyable and memorable game, something of a volatile quality that I think The Treehouse Man holds.
Graphics & Audio
Finally, I can talk at length about the design of The Treehouse Man, which is its best quality. Pixelated ingenuinity. I absolutely adore the dark and decrepit nature the developer was going for, with the illuminating aura of the withered forest serving as the final sign of life for a dying people. Everybody is designed completely black, like shadows in a pocket of undiscovered land. The animation is solid, though unvaried. Boss designs are especially monstrous, creating an air of importance, whether by the natural embodiment of size or by the indigestible nature of their position. There is a lot about the look of this game to be in awe of, and I am. In an instant I was pulled into the trailer, if only to look about the design choices and the world it presented. Even if sporadic in all other aspects, the design is absolutely splendid.
From an audio standpoint, it accompanies the general design of the game fairly well. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it matches the excellence of the pixel art, as it doesn't hold a candle to it. What it manages to accomplish is as a measurable support for the atmosphere the game is trying to embody, which it does relatively well. On its own, the music likely wouldn't stand out too much, though I did enjoy a few tracks enough to pay close attention to them (the boss theme is pretty good). Soft and melancholic, much like the general atmosphere of the game.
Variety is always a nice consideration for the player. What it also brings on the other end is the possibility of not finding a sure enough footing upon the plateau of identity. The Treehouse Man manages to bring about an intriguing foray into a darkened world of insecurity and genre classics. With its experimentation comes a "jack of all trades" type of style that will enthuse most at the base level, and may disappoint those looking for a fine-tuned instrument of variation. Faith may be the one thing needed to give it a shot.
|+ Amazing pixel detail||– Jack of all trades; master of none|
|+ An assortment of variety to support experimentation||– Story feels too straightforward|
|+ Perfect difficulty for all types of players||– Excursions feel very repetitive|