Devespresso Games has slowly been cementing itself as an up-and-coming provider of solid indie games. The South Korea-based development team is most known for The Coma series, with the latest entry in Vicious Sisters and a Recut version of the original both acquiring console releases. In 2020, they announced their next project, something that shied away from the Horror genre they had become accustomed to. Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood is the latest product to grace the computer space—bring your best red cloak.
My personal history with Horror titles is pretty minimal, so I can’t say I’m familiar with the company’s work. However, the lighter-hearted Scarlet Hood provided the opportunity to see what all the talk is about. Artistically and structurally, it seems reminiscent of the games that came before. Side-scrolling adventures with a keen eye for supernatural stories and varied character input. Like a fantasy mishmash of Point & Click and Action-Adventure, it hopes to set a trail the likes of those that inspired it already have. Doesn’t help to throw in a joke or thirty-two.
Story – A Tale Told Plenty Before
The appropriately named Scarlet is part of a band hoping for their big break, propelling them to stardom. After their most recent performance, someone is willing to sign Scarlet, specifically, to a big-time deal, leaving her bandmates in the dust. Circumstances lead to said bandmates discovering this fact, which has them turn on her and leave her stranded on the road during a storm. Adding injury to insult, a tornado wreaks havoc just as Scarlet gets herself situated, throwing her into a world she’s unfamiliar with. She’ll meet a variety of strange people and creatures, as well as numerous homages to fairy-tale stories.
If “Tornado transporting a girl to a magical place” made you immediately think of The Wizard of Oz, that is just one of (very) many references to that and a collection of other stories. Per the developer’s website, Scarlet Hood was “inspired by Wizard in Oz, Red Hood, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, mixed with Southern America Cultural elements.” With such a wide array of material to work from, one may expect this to be a loose retread with a modern spin. One would be correct, though with a hint of creativity, the narrative invokes a sense of identity that suits its genre typing.
Scarlet’s campaign involves reliving the same day several times over. Almost like a Metroidvania meets Groundhog Day scenario, each “death” brings one closer to the end of the journey. What one does previously will open paths for the next step, as well as influence one of ten possible endings the player can achieve. What this does is create the impression of missing content that completionists will inevitably flock to, as well as provide flexibility on how one can approach obstacles.
Although, what benefit this provides in terms of structural context doesn’t necessarily translate to fulfilling writing. If I had to describe the dialogue and story beats Scarlet Hood covers, it would be “standard.” Nothing so unspectacular that it thwarts one’s enjoyment, but still leaves a lot to be desired. Generally goofy and with a bit of venom, characters tend to be a mix of modern insight to generations-passed tales and the tropes most fairy tales abide by. What it truly lacks is a firm identity. Meshed between its inspirations and a “fish-out-of-water” story, not much harbors the spirit or magic that it wishes to pay homage to.
Gameplay – Click & Run
If you ever felt that your Point & Click titled needed more spice to it, this would be a desirable option. While technically more of a side-scroller than Point & Click, the manner of gameplay helps to sully any firm distinction. Generally speaking, one will be running from one end of a room to another, searching for clues or hidden items that will help them advance. Most areas are pretty small, with the general player probably able to traverse at least one path to completion in an hour. Once the player knows what they’re doing, it will take much less time, as item locations don’t move on repeated playthroughs.
What would a pseudo-Point & Click adventure be without some puzzles? If not for running around and finding things, one will be running around and finding things to aid them in puzzles. Each environment houses a vast array of puzzles barring Scarlet from advancing in her goal. Most puzzles are pretty straightforward, though a couple did leave me rather perplexed. Having to use a guide for them (which was provided), one of them felt kind of shaky in terms of logical explanation, though most shouldn’t provide too much struggle for veteran puzzle-solvers. In general, puzzles offer a good balance between logical problem-solving and aimless wandering.
One thing about Scarlet Hood that doesn’t feel as polished comes in the form of combat and evasion. As one goes about the major areas, they will occasionally encounter enemies that will attack you from a variety of angles. These range from monkeys in trees that shoot at you to a big, bad wolf that chases you throughout rooms. In my experience, outside said wolf, most enemies can be properly dealt with by running past them. Items are sprinkled throughout that help to heal oneself in case things get too chaotic… though with how easy it is to simply run past things, they feel unnecessary. One can’t run forever—a stamina bar is in place. Even so, it always regenerates, albeit slowly; keeping it balanced is no hassle at all.
Area size mentioned prior may end up hurting the strength of its replayability overall. From what I could tell, each major area has three different outcomes; the player can choose to go with any path on any playthrough. Given the size of the areas, these different outcomes don’t amount to much in the long run—a different key item placed in another spot that simply ends the area’s importance. Like going back to an area you know 70% of, just to uncover another 15% you didn’t see the first time. Is this enough for people? I played this twice for confirmation purposes and to better understand how to critique the game. Would I go back for more? Hmm… maybe.
Performance with Scarlet Hood can be an issue. There were initially plans to release this in Early Access, so I wonder if that may have had to do with early-release jitters. Loading in different areas of the adventure led to one frozen screen and a large number of “Not Responding” screens (that eventually loaded). When loading into a save, sometimes Scarlet’s red headdress would randomly disappear from dialogue screens (where character art is shown). Just booting up the game has the developer logo churn and stutter like mad. These aren’t instances that break the game—only they cause some minor discomfort in the integrity of the game’s stability.
Graphics & Audio – All Red, All Right
Much like The Coma, the overall aesthetic of Scarlet Hood has a vaguely Flash-like appeal to it, mixed with the obvious inspirations of fairy tale descriptions. There are a number of different ways the game represents itself: special cutscene images, in-game animated models, dialogue art models, and even actual human models found in the bonus gallery.
For the most part, players will see the in-game models and dialogue art, as those two are by far the most prevalent. Dialogue is plentiful, so you will see a lot of different characters expressing a mix of different emotions. Outside this, characters tend to have minimal, but noticeable animation even when idle, which helps to make the world feel alive. Still, some things come off somewhat uncleanly, like when a special cutscene occurs and Scarlet spams the same three emotes continuously until the cutscene ends. “Flash-like” is both a blessing and a curse—it harkens to a time where it felt like anyone’s passion could bear fruit. It also has a bit of a choppy manner of execution, that which those who favor fluidity may not care for.
Those in favor of color in their games will regardless find solace here. Scarlet Hood in name alone brings the expectation that the journey will be one coated in brightened colors. Whether Scarlet, the Black Witch Lefaba, or others she’ll meet along the way, the figures are recognizable by color and proportion alone. Even if some dialogue art has a bit of an uncanny anime touch to them, the general make-up has more personality than some AAA titles.
Similarly to the game’s execution in writing, the soundtrack and general soundscape is fairly “standard.” A trial in ambience this is not, however, as the campaign is filled to the brim with upbeat, at times mystical tracks. Of what I listened to (and remember), two specific tracks stick out – the title theme and another track featuring some soft string work. Upon booting up the game, the player will hear some jazzy, almost carnival-like song that livens up the mood immediately. And when the mood calls for it, the soundtrack does what it can to soothe the player’s immersion. Doesn’t quite reach impressive heights, though it’s spirited.
Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood was reviewed on PC via Steam, with a review key provided by Headup.