Ravenlok is the final game in developer Cococucumber’s Voxel Trilogy and it’s earned a good bit of buzz and excitement leading up to release. A reimagining of Alice in Wonderland paired with a jaw-dropping art style was already going to turn some heads, but trailers and screenshots leading up to release showed off battles against awesome bosses and a world teeming with personality. There was so much potential.
That’s why it pains me to say that Ravenlok is a pretty big disappointment. Outside of its fantastic visuals and presentation, the rest of the game feels rather lifeless. The story and characters are as thin as paper and lack any sort of depth or innovation that would make them stand out against the sea of other Wonderland reimaginings. Meanwhile, the gameplay is simultaneously overwhelming in some areas and messy in others, with combat, in particular, falling to many shortcomings that cause the entire game experience to break down.
Ravenlok is certainly worth a look, especially when its visuals are so fantastical, but there’s also so much baggage that it turns this Wonderland adventure into anything but.
Ravenlok is available on PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series S and X consoles for $24.99. It will also be available on Xbox Game Pass.
Story | Missing Some Pages
In Ravenlok, you play as a young girl from the regular world thrust into a new life and a new adventure when she discovers an ancient magic mirror. Summoned to a fantastical fairy tale world, you learn that you are the destined hero Ravenlok, the one prophesied to defeat the evil Caterpillar Queen and restore order to the land. You must pick up your arms, steel yourself for battle and face off against the Queen’s forces as you try to dethrone her and fulfil your destiny.
The premise of the game feels quite played out at this point and Ravenlok doesn’t really reach for anything ambitious, either. What you see is what you get: you’re the good guy summoned from another world to beat the evil baddies, no questions asked. There isn’t a single twist or convention in the story and everything plays out exactly as you expect it to. Having a simple story, in and of itself, isn’t a dire complaint and there’s certainly enough momentum to move you from place to place but it does leave the world at large feeling rather hollow.
Even the rendition of Wonderland’s cast of colourful characters feels bland and drained of personality. None of them has any flair or character to speak of, really: no turns of phrase, amusing character moments, there’s nothing really like that. Even if there is, you don’t get to say more than 4 sentences to the majority of the cast. They exist to dispense quests and exposition and that is all. It feels like a bit of a waste, especially when some of them have pretty great designs.
Overall, the story of Ravenlok is fine. It does its job of framing the world and giving you an excuse to go to the different regions and fight the different legions of the evil Queen. Aside from that, though, it’s completely superfluous and forgettable, which is surprising given the source material it’s reimagining. The entirety of Ravenlok’s story feels like a synopsis stretched out over the runtime of an entire game.
Design and the World | Fantasy Come to Life
What fares much better than the story is the world and design of Ravenlok. Despite being quite tired thematically and narratively, the world looks stellar. Every moment of Ravenlok is like stepping into a storybook: it is easily one of the most beautiful games I have played in a very long time and I paused to soak in the scenery several times throughout my journey.
The voxel art style that Cococucumber has used for Ravenlok (and several of their previous games) is gorgeous and manages to capture a spark of something new and unique. Whether it’s the depiction of a vast labyrinth of hedge mazes and the ancient ruins that it’s swallowed or the creeping opulent halls of a ghastly mansion, there isn’t a single location in Ravenlok that isn’t impressive on a visual level.
The characters, too, have such charm and whimsy in their designs. While the writing ultimately fell flat, getting to see what the denizens of this world looked like and how Cococucumber interrupted the madness of Wonderland was a small moment of joy every time I came across a new NPC. The same goes for the enemies and how they all stood out and felt at home in the environments crafted for them.
Simply moving across the map and watching the entire world and atmosphere change in an instant with each new screen is where the game shines brightest. Honestly, the visuals alone may be reason enough to pick Ravenlok up and I would be more confident in that recommendation if the rest of the game didn’t suffer from some very glaring flaws. Ravenlok sure is pretty, but it masks the issues that lurk beneath.
Gameplay | Game of Madness
Gameplay, and in particular combat, are unfortunately the absolute weakest parts of Ravenlok. You’ll move through different parts of Ravenlok’s world, defeating any enemies who show up in your path while solving puzzles for quests or progressing into the next area.
The first thing you’ll take note of is how many quests you get given. 10 minutes in, my quest log was already about 5 quests long, full of different terminology and areas that I did not know of: before I had finished the combat tutorial, that list had almost doubled. The way that quests work is pretty novel – there are very few actual side quests in Ravenlok and many of them feed in and out of the main story in interesting ways – but the sheer amount of them is completely overwhelming, smothering the player as they take their first steps in this new world.
Exploration is also very weak. The game is strictly linear and, outside of smashing some pots for gold, the only thing to look for is some collectable rabbit figures. Spaces exist to facilitate quests and, outside of that, there’s very little there to explore. Like with the characters and the story, it’s a shame because of how good all the levels look: I actively wanted to spend more time in them but they just had nothing to offer outside of their first visit.
This just leaves combat which is the weakest part of an already weak gameplay loop. As an action game, Ravenlok fails in the most crucial area: being fun.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Ravenlok’s combat is how spammy it is. This can be owed to two simple facts: the basic attack option has no internal cooldown between button presses and the basic enemies are extremely weak to stagger.
For the first point, when you press the attack button it will instantly perform the attack. Hitting the button twice in quick succession will perform a “combo” but this is purely visual and doesn’t increase the damage at all. The big problem is that the amount of attacks you do is tied, literally, to how fast you press the button: the faster you press the button, the more attacks you will do. There are no combos to learn, moments of pause between your attacks, nothing. You just need to keep spamming the button and you will continue on a never-ending stream of attacks forever.
This is already worrisome but becomes unbearable when you meet any of Ravenlok’s regular enemies. No matter what type of enemy – whether it’s the small starter mushrooms or the end-game keepers of the Queen’s castle – they will instantly stagger when you hit them. If they aren’t already in an attack animation, they will cease all movement and aggression immediately.
Put these two things together and you get a system where you can shut down 95% of the enemies in the game by just spamming. Your endless series of attacks will constantly stagger the enemies and they will never break it, never dodge and never attack back. I don’t even know what over half of the enemies do because, even just starting out, I was able to obliterate them with such ease. There are even special combat skills but, compared to my all-powerful regular attack, they felt unnecessary.
The only enemies that pose any sort of problem are the bosses. A large majority of them have large pools of damage over time effects which deal a ludicrous amount to your health. They will constantly spawn it directly around themselves, meaning you cannot get close enough to spam attacks because you will just die to the DoT. The only way for the game to halt your unrelenting assault is to make it basically impossible to get into melee. When that isn’t there, though, they fall to the same button spamming as everyone else, even if they don’t stagger.
The core of an action game is combat and how good it feels to fight things. Everything from the animations your characters performs to the sounds of their attacks to how your enemies react to them come together to form a harmonious experience that is almost unrivalled in terms of satisfaction in video games. Ravenlok has none of that: fighting never feels good in this game and it turns into a spam-fest from the moment you enter your first battle to when you fell the final boss.
Intended Audience and Expectations
The biggest quantifier for all of the complaints and criticisms towards Ravenlok’s combat has to do with its intended audience. According to Cococucumber themselves, the game is supposed to skew more towards a younger demographic, perhaps people who are stepping into the action genre for the first time. While this is an admirable goal, I do not believe they have succeeded: instead, the final product is quite lifeless on both ends of the spectrum.
Just because a game is made for a younger audience doesn’t mean that the game’s systems and mechanics need to be so watered down, and plenty of other action titles have achieved this. I shouldn’t be able to stagger lock every single basic enemy in this game, especially not with something as simple as the basic attack option: this does nothing to improve the game for less skilled audiences, either. For those entering into the genre for the first time, they’re met with a spammy mess that doesn’t reward them for playing smart or for trying new things since the most effective option is always the simplest.
Then, on the opposite end, experienced players will come away bored. There’s no depth, nothing to learn or grow except your stats and it makes everything fall apart. What’s the point of cool enemy designs if they all end up being the same punching bag wandering around in different disguises?
I want to reiterate that Ravenlok didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. Wanting to accommodate newer players into the genre is commendable and with a few tweaks, I could see it becoming the warm welcome Cococucumber wanted it to be. It doesn’t have that, though: at the end of the day, it just isn’t fun. I wasn’t expecting Ravenlok to go toe-to-toe with some of the heavy hitters but I was hoping for something.
Technical State | Story Book Ending
To close, let’s discuss Ravenlok’s performance and technical state. Fortunately, I have little to no complaints in this area.
During my time with Ravenlok, I experienced zero bugs, crashes, graphical glitches or the like. For all intents and purposes, the game ran flawlessly. Everything loaded fast and traversing between areas was a breeze, which is good considering how much time you’ll spend moving around the world and between its various locales.
The amount of polish the game has received deserves praise, especially when it allows you to take in the sights and scenery undisturbed.