Raven’s Hike is a puzzle-platformer, developed by Wired Dreams Studio, that I picked up for review on PC this week. This is maybe one of the most frustrating games I’ve played in a while. That is sort of par for the course with puzle-platformers though, and it isn’t like Raven’s Hike is bad. Gameplay-wise, it’s a pretty smooth experience. Visually, all the information you need is available and it looks good, if a bit repetitive. The premise is vague, and brings the overall quality down, but the soundtrack is decent.
Honestly, I’m finding it tough to pin down my feelings on Raven’s Hike. I hate falling back on this argument, but I really think enjoying the game depends on what you want out of gaming as a whole. It’s a cop out, I know, but this is a rare instance. If all you want is a challenge, then RH has it in buckets. If you want something more than that though, I think you’ll be dissapointed. There’s definitely improvements to be made, but take it with a grain of salt and use your judgement for this one.
Raven’s Hike is available on Switch, Playstation and Steam for $3.99.
Story – A Good Walk Spoiled
Raven’s Hike has a story, for some reason, and it is one sentence long. “Help Raven reach the top of the tower, restoring equilibrium and saving the world from oblivion.” Here’s the thing, this sentence is never once mentioned in game. The only place you can see it is on the store page for whichever version you buy. Raven never speaks and she’s the only thing in the tower that would be remotely capable of speaking, so there’s no way to glean this information while playing. But, somehow, it still managed to hurt the experience.
Let’s talk about premise. A gameplay heavy game like Raven’s Hike doesn’t really require a story, but it does need context. That comes in the form of a premise, a vague overarching reason for why we’re doing all this in the first place. Mario needs to save the princess. Doom Guy needs to kill demons to protect Earth. Stuff like that. Raven’s Hike head dives into the spikey pit of being too specific. The phrase “restoring equilibrium” raises so many more questions than it answers.
End of The Road
Speaking of answers, the ending is bad. I’m not going to spoil it, but the ending left me really hating the time I put into the game. It doesn’t answer anything, and it doesn’t answer in the most protentious way it could. You don’t get to have a weird, esoteric ending if you didn’t set it up first. And trust me, I searched for a story. I paid attention to every level looking for background story telling, clues to who Raven is, why she’s qualified to save the world besides owning a grappling hook, what this oblivion entails, and what equilibrium means. I found nothing.
The real problem here is specificity. No game has to have a multi-layered story, fully voiced cut scenes and a glossary of characters. But, you need to understand that the more details you give, the more questions you’ll have to answer. If the premise was just “help Raven reach the top of the tower,” that would have been fine. I wouldn’t have worried about it, or come up with my own reasons, but the game suffers because of the expectations it gives you. Keep the story vague, that’s how we know we shouldn’t focus on it.
Gameplay – Hiking Up My Blood Pressure
Simple Tools, Complicated Job
Have you played N? Raven’s Hike is like N without running. Raven can’t move without using her grappling hook, raising yet more questions as to why she’s saving the world, but to be fair she’s really good with it. You can hang on walls and the ceiling, grapple in all four cardinal directions nearly instantly, and change direction while you’re moving. Although, not to the opposite direction to the one you were heading in, which is something you kind of have to figure out.
It might seem like I’m not taking this seriously, but that’s all of the mechanics. The gameplay doesn’t evolve in RH by adding new mechanics, but rather by adding new obstacles you have to apply the mechanics to. For instance, one room will have a pretty easy to dodge saw in it, just to show you how saws work. The next room will have four saws in it, going at weird angles with asymetrical timing, to test what you learned. And it works! The controls are simple, the movement smooth, and the puzzles challenging.
Grappling With Frustration
On paper, this is a very well designed game. But papers get disproven all the time, and RH is no different. There is no room for error. So many of the puzzles require pixel perfect precision, and being one nanometer out of place will kill you. You don’t get too punished for messing up, mind you. Respawning is basically instant, and you only get sent back to the beginning of the room, but it turns every puzzle into trial and error. There are four levels, plus the final vertical climb up the tower, and 16 rooms per level. 64 rooms of trial and error is a test of patience, not skill.
Every puzzle-platformer walks the line between difficult, but satisfying or just frustrating. Raven’s Hike does cartwheels on that line. Right up until that final climb when you beat the four levels. It should have been good, it was a combination of different obstacles I’d seen before and a true test of what I’d learnt. But, by that point, I was so tired of this. The game keeps track of how many times you died, and I died over a thousand times in my run. I really do think it comes down to what you want from a game, but I had to physically distance myself from RH every few minutes.
Visual & Audio – The Hiker’s Ambivalence
The visuals in Raven’s Hike look fine. It’s a 2D pixel art style, with distinct but consistent room designs. Everything you need to know about the room is made clear the moment you enter it, which is good, but it lacks variety. Sure, when you go from level one to level two, the rooms looks different. The problem comes in with how much time you spend in each of the 16 rooms in that level. They all start to blend together by the end. It doesn’t look bad or anything, it’s just that nothing really sticks out.
I had a similar problem with the game’s music. It was fine for the most part, it fit the visuals and all, but I don’t remember it changing. I think it did, but I can’t remember. It just sort of faded into the background. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I didn’t hate the music, but I didn’t love it either. Frankly, I’m having trouble remembering the music at all. I liked the sound effects though. The swishing of the saws, and thud of you hitting a wall, worked really nicely.
Raven’s Hike was reviewed on PC with a code provided by Wired Dreams Studio.