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The Great Tree

Score: 85%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Reflexive
Developer: Reflexive Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Shooter/ Action/ Arcade

Graphics & Sound:

Adjectives are thrown around too much with little care for impact or accuracy. I'm probably as guilty as the next man, but I try to reserve accolades for when they are truly deserved. Taking this into consideration, I'll go out on a limb (no pun intended... ;) and say that The Great Tree is a game with some stunning visuals and incredibly high production value. The thought that went into presentation shines through at every moment, so the final product feels more boxed than downloaded, if that makes sense. Fantasy themes have been overhauled so many times, just the word "fairy" makes me shiver with toxic anticipation. The Great Tree manages to take an overused theme and place it in a new, fun context.

The really special quality of the graphics comes from the juxtaposition of photographic (or photo-quality) images and more typical sprite-based characters. Each new stage design is more dramatic and interesting than what came before, which makes for good incentive to keep playing. The composition of a level will also change slightly from the beginning to end of a stage, keeping you on your toes. The fairy characters that are playable look like what you'd expect, but the enemies are a weird bug/alien combination that comes out as sinister enough to be believable, but not over-the-top. There are some animated cut-scenes with decent voice-acting, probably on the long side for younger players that just want to get into the action. It's impressive to see a real attempt at story exposition and development through the game. Nice music and sound rounds out the offering in The Great Tree to make this a complete package. You might expect from the action-oriented gameplay that the music would be a bit more bouncy. The Great Tree is a casual game with one foot in the arcade/action camp, so things could have gone either way, but it feels more appropriate that the music is on the casual side of the fence.


Gameplay:

Casual games don't all have to be seek-and-find or match-three style, but you might not realize that after visiting some of the popular casual-game download sites. There are good reasons for casual gamers to welcome titles like The Great Tree that add variety to what is otherwise a glut of copycat titles. Doing something different always has risks, but carries more than a few rewards if you are successful. The formula used for The Great Tree isn't cutting edge in gaming terms, but it makes for a really nice blend of arcade/action and casual gaming.

The backstory in The Great Tree is surprisingly deep, maybe too deep considering that knowing all the details won't have a huge impact on how you play the game. The short version is that a life-giving tree must be purged of enemies while you gather pollen and rescue captives from level to level. You also can upgrade your character's agility, health, strength, or magic. The agility could as easily be called speed for how it affects your character. Health would be equivalent to hit points. Strength has to do with the special abilities you possess for going on the offensive, and magic is similar to luck in how it affects the chance of earning special drops from enemies. The additional customization for your character is a set of wings, possessed with special powers that further enhance your abilities. The play style is basically like an arcade shooter, with enemies floating across the screen and you moving the mouse to collect energy, free captives, and sometimes attack. It's possible to play the game without rescuing enemies, but there are major incentives to do so. The thrust of the game is collecting energy and restoring it to the tree. At the point where your collection meter is full, the level will end. At the end of each level, you'll flutter off to a new stage.

Bumping into enemies will result in lost energy, both the kind you are intent on collecting and your vitality. The power-up system is nice in that it allows you to create a character that is well balanced for how you like to play. The best thing about the upgrade system in The Great Tree is that you can retrieve points and "reroll" your character midway through the game. Don't like being fast but weak? Try being slow and hardy... Since the point of The Great Tree is more to serve-and-protect than run-and-gun, it doesn't really serve you to max out magic and go on the offensive, but it's a nice touch to allow players to blaze their own trail.


Difficulty:

Settings in the game for difficulty only allow for players to dial up the setting from "Normal" to "Hard." The main differences are that enemy patterns seem to randomize earlier, there are more enemies on screen earlier, and everything moves more quickly. The health points allowed for your character are somewhat scanty, but it almost seems appropriate considering that you play a soft, beautiful fairy opposing big bugs with spines and hard shells. The ramp for players on the Normal setting is nice and gentle; you'll be well into the second stage before you start noticing that the bugs are hard to avoid and you end up restarting a few levels. The Great Tree is a very approachable game for novices, but will also appeal to more twitchy veteran gamers that want a challenge.

Game Mechanics:

If you can move the mouse and read English, you are all set to play this puppy. To be fair, there is at least one more point of control that you'll use to attack enemies, but you get the point that The Great Tree is mucho simple to play. The initial controls feel mushy until you get a few upgrades and can increase your character's speed. This makes a huge difference. A curious omission is the option to assign keys to movement, but perhaps the developers felt fluid movement wouldn't be possible using just the keyboard. Robotron might disagree with that statement, but no matter. Gamers will appreciate the simplicity of control and even though it might be possible to play using the keyboard, it almost certainly wouldn't be desirable. Attacking once you reach a threshold for your pollen collection is handled on the keyboard, but everything else is done through mousing around to move, pick up captives, and deposit collected pollen.

The Great Tree does a nice job of cutting a typically difficult genre, the arcade shooter, with the relaxed style of a casual game. The stunning graphics and interesting look of the game are bolstered by very solid gameplay and extremely simple, pick-up and play mechanics. Beneath the ten stages available, there isn't much replay value and the lack of any significant online or multiplayer content might be a turnoff for some. Taking The Great Tree for what it is, an enjoyable single-player experience, you'll feel like you've discovered a little gem. Or mote of pollen, in this case...


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Minimum System Requirements:



Mac OS: 10.4 +, Processor: 1.0 +, RAM: 512 MB
 

Test System:



iMac G5 with OS 10.4

Windows American McGee's Grimm: The Fisherman and His Wife Microsoft Xbox 360 Soul Calibur IV

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated