These days, the majority of games which come out tend to hold your hand, practically giving you the solution to puzzles and the location of secrets by pointing to them and making them obvious. The whole feeling you get from finding something new and discovering solutions and items without any help is lost, developers just want to push you through the story and casually point out everything so you don’t have to explore on your own. Woven defies this mentality and brings back the sensation of discovering something new in exchange for exploring and taking your time.
From indie developer Alterego Games, Woven was initially a Kickstarter campaign back in 2016, a campaign which sadly didn’t meet its goal at the time. Since then, the developers took all the feedback and experience from the pitch and spent the next two years developing the game with their own money and time, which is a strong indication of how much they believe in this project. In 2018, publisher StickyLock Studios also saw the potential within the game and became the publisher, helping the team get one step closer to releasing their most ambitious game to date.
So, its November 2019 and Woven has finally been released on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. I’ve completed the main story, which took me around 15-20 hours, and explored a lot that the game has to offer, but was it fun? Let’s find out…
The story in Woven is based around our plushie protagonist, Stuffy – a living stuffed toy. In a land which was once filled with many various stuffed creatures, Stuffy awakens to find that he’s all alone with none of his kind roaming the fields and forests. Due to his clumsy nature, he was damaged with wear and tear thanks to the bumps and scrapes which he endured in his exploration for another one of his kind. Thankfully, he comes across another lost soul, this time in the form of a small metal firefly he names Glitch, a partner which becomes an essential companion just like Banjo and Kazooie or Yooka and Laylee.
Glitch, being a mechanical being, and not a cuddly toy, has access to the various machines around the world, machines that can repair Stuffy’s damaged body as well as enhance his abilities with the very interesting mechanic of swapping Stuffy’s body parts to give him new actions. Utilising both of our protagonist’s independent strengths, you both set off to discover why there’s little to no life upon the world other than a few scattered creatures and the robotic insects which neither recall seeing before (despite Glitch being one of them).
Exploration is the key, as the game won’t guide you or tell you what to do. It’s all about taking your time, finding secrets, uncovering memories, and solving environmental and standard puzzles in order to progress to the next chapter. Although neither character speaks, the narrator (who is amazing btw) will keep you updated on what’s going on as well as slip in a few hints here and there – all in the satisfying format of rhymes and poetry. Although the game looks and sounds like it’ll appeal to children more, as a 35-year-old, I loved every second of the game and I’m sure you will too.
Woven is very unique in my eyes, its various gameplay mechanics really help it stand out from the crowd. It isn’t a 3D platformer – as you may expect from the images – it’s a 3D puzzle game with a strong emphasis on working things out for yourself and feeling satisfied that you did it all on your own. This was both a good and bad thing for me, it’s good because the developers took a risk and gave us a game which rewards you for concentrating and being rather meticulous with your exploration, yet it also led to me getting lost and confused sometimes. As such, although younger children will love the aesthetic, the game itself may be a little confusing if they don’t have much patience.
But, what do you do? You must work your way through each rather big area, looking out for patches of fabric, animals, flowers, and various objects you can scan in order to obtain their patterns. You’ll also come across blueprint stations which have you play a simplistic game in which you move a needle to tap on notes and play a tune – like those old music box devices. Once you have these new designs and ‘bodies’, you can use other stations to become Doctor Frankenstein and create your perfect stuffed toy – or maybe taking the role of a Build-a-Bear sales rep might be the best analogy?
You can swap out the head, body, left arm, right arm and legs independently, mixing together various animals for both amusement and to give Stuffy new abilities such as jumping, stomping, singing, pick up, and push actions in the open world. This station also lets you re-stitch every body part listed above with three fabric pattern layers as each design has various patches like a rounded belly patch or spikes on the back. Both processes are essential for progression as you’ll need to swap abilities in and out regularly to reach new places and uncover new designs, yet the designs are used to allow you to blend into the background for stealth segments and satisfy the stubborn snake who won’t let you pass unless you dress like him!
The puzzles within Woven are a mixed bag. Whereas I needed a little help on the first snake (tip, if it wants you in a certain colour, paint at least 12 parts of your body in that colour to be accepted), the other puzzles weren’t too bad. There’s the aforementioned music-based puzzle to unlock new animals (which is repeated on every station), similar pin-moving puzzles but on a much grander scale, connecting up the pipes (like in Bioshock), and there was even a short race in which you had to lure an animal away so you could quickly get back and scan something they were guarding.
So, the ‘puzzles’ aren’t that tricky, in general, but the main selling point of Woven has to be the FrankenStuffy environmental puzzles. You’ll be constantly seeking out stations which let you swap around your body parts and designs so that you can jump to higher ledges (as you can’t jump by default as you’re initially an elephant and elephants can’t jump…), push buttons, or even float over lakes. This does result in a bit of backtracking but it isn’t that annoying or monotonous as they are scattered around and I found that I spotted something I’d missed previously whenever I went looking for a re-stitch station.
As I mentioned before, the game doesn’t want to hold your hand at all, often finding yourself in front of a blockade or obstacle with no hints on what to do. Sure, the narrator will usually state the obvious or that Stuffy wishes he had an ability to bypass it (such as flying), but he doesn’t blatantly say “if you do this and that then you’ll overcome this issue”. As such, you’re forced to look around at the environment, see if you can see any interaction points or clues as to what the solutions are, then either resolve the issue or go swap out your body parts and return to finish the job.
As long as you’re aware of your surroundings and don’t mind a bit of exploration, the puzzles won’t be too difficult and they really do leave you with a sense of satisfaction upon completion.
There are enemies within the game, without giving away too much, but you can’t fight them in order to progress. These encounters basically fall into the above ‘puzzle’ category as Stuffy is a coward, he runs away from anything which looks hostile. As such, he takes a calm and collected approach to the situation, seeking out a way of maybe pushing a rock to scare them away or painting himself the same colour as the floor so he blends in and can’t be seen. He clearly wants to live to see another day and would rather resolve issues without any untimely deaths.
Speaking of deaths – can you die? Simple answer, no. Long answer, kinda… In certain places, Stuffy can get gobbled up by giant machines. However, don’t cry, we don’t have to hold a funeral just yet – once you’ve been eaten you simply wake up inside of the creatures mechanical stomach, a prison which is very easy to escape. My one complaint would be that all of these confined areas, no matter what chapter you’re on, are the same – I would have loved new puzzles to solve in order to escape the mechanical guts.
Woven really is one big cryptic puzzle as there are a few knitted foes as well as the mechanical ones, but again, they are all overcome by either placing objects, interacting with things, or re-making yourself out of a different material. If you ever get stuck or become unsure of what to do next, just experiment and try everything. I spent about 30 mins trying to get past a frog simply because I didn’t realise if you move so that Glitch shines her light on a mushroom, fireflies will move across it. However, once I knew, it came in useful for a number of future situations as well.
The grind – collectables.
Woven is a very brutal game in terms of its trophies (platinum hunters beware, this will be a very rare trophy in my opinion). Most games give you trophies for collecting one, a few, then all items – not Woven. Instead, you must collect every piece of fabric, every blueprint, every memory, and every cave painting in each area, otherwise, you get no trophies. Remember how I said I’d completed the game and it took about 20 hours – well, I got zero trophies for the whole game. As such, if you’re not using a guide (which I recommend), you need to make sure you look everywhere in every level as there’s no level select and no going back upon completion, as the game just starts over and autosaves over you save file.
In terms of quantities, there are around thirty fabric patterns in each chapter, five memories, three caves and I think four or five blueprints. It’s a lot of things to collect, especially when you have to get them all for the trophies, but you don’t need all of them for progression (if you don’t care about the trophies). You’ll need to unlock certain animal parts, so you have access to unique abilities in the overworld, but only a few patterns are required to solve puzzles – the rest are for vanity and customisation options. The memories are interesting as they uncover the secrets hidden within Glitch’s mechanical memory banks and helps bring an understanding behind what’s happened.
Can I see myself going back into the world of Woven in order to try and find all the items and get the platinum? I can, but it won’t be for a while as the playtime will be a lot longer than what I did originally, despite me now knowing the solutions to the various puzzles. A more lenient trophy list would have been better for younger children in my opinion, but I do believe this will become one of those games which separate the true trophy hunters from those who simply buy stacks of the same game in multiple regions just because they’re 10-15 minute platinums.
Visually Woven looks fantastic. The colours are all very vibrant and the design of each and every creature makes them look very cuddly and adorable (apart from the evil robotic ones). This leads to the ‘Stuffy’ in the room, the artistic design. The game is entirely designed as if the world and all of its natural inhabitants are hand-knitted out of wool. If you remember Yoshi’s Woolly World, Woven reminded me so much of that game in terms of the beautiful and well-designed environments. Not to mention the fact that swapping all the body parts independently and then recreating them with over a hundred fabric patterns is so satisfying, fun, and entertaining. Who doesn’t want a giant pigs head on the thin neck of a bird that wobbles it’s butt as it walks?
There are some negatives though – there are quite a few invisible walls in gaps you think you should be able to get past. One example was a blockade you had to clear – I could clearly fit down the side yet I wasn’t able to as I had to solve the puzzle first. Similarly, you’re unable to just run up and down small hills as the game requires you to go via certain paths or swap out your feet to jump – it’s all to emphasis the puzzles but it does break the immersion a little.
However, my biggest negative point was the lack of an inverted Y-Axis. I know I ramble on about this quite a bit, but there are a large number of gamers out there, like myself, who can only play games efficiently with the Y-Axis inverted, so having that option omitted is a big negative to the overall experience. Luckily, I have the fantastic NACON Revolution Unlimited Pro controller, which lets you invert the axis on a hardware level, but I shouldn’t have to with games created these days – it should be a standard option.
In terms of the music and the narration, top marks all around. The music is very calm and relaxing, playing softly in the background as you explore this rather big game and all the distinct chapters it presents. However, the star of the show has to be David Seys, the deep-voiced and whimsical narrator who rhymes the story as you go. At first, I thought it was the same person who provided the narration for The Stanley Parable (it’s not) as the delivery of the lines and the overall comforting yet playful nature was very similar. The developers should put together all the lines David readout and compile them into a bedtime audiobook, the narrative would make a really nice bedtime story for younger children.
Woven is a game which wants you to take your time and explore the bright, colourful environments whilst solving puzzles. The combination of standard puzzles and environmental ones, which requires you to build your own FrankenStuffy, are a great balance and really get you thinking about your appearance as well as your inherited abilities. Woven doesn’t hold your hand and point you in the right direction like almost every other exploration-based game today, you must explore and uncover the secrets with little to no help. Although looking very child-friendly, especially with the brilliantly rhyming narration, I feel some younger kids may require support and guidance from an adult with certain puzzles due to the hands-off approach the game delivers.
I honestly had no idea what Woven was until about a week before release, it literally came out of nowhere and took me by surprise. I loved the customisation aspect and the puzzles confused and made me think on more than one occasion. Plus, with no guides or help out there, I felt a lot of satisfaction upon completing the various puzzles on my own. If you like the sound of a game which lets you just walk around and discover things for yourself, whilst offering the ability to swap out body parts to overcome physical obstacles, then you’ll really enjoy Woven.
- - Visually, the game looks very bright and colourful with a realistic knitted design
- - The narrator does a great job of telling the story through his rhymes and subtle 'hints'
- - No hand-holding, you're free to go at your own pace and are encouraged to explore and investigate
- - The customisation is lots of fun, create your own FrankenStuffy of various body parts
- - A very long game if you're going for 100% collection progress
- - The trophies seem a little harsh as you have to do everything in each stage to get any of them
- - Despite liking the fact there's no hand-holding, you can get lost or confused if you're unsure on what to do. This could be a negative for some people but for me, it made me go and explore more in order to progress
- - No invert Y-Axis option. This may not matter to you but for those of us who only ever play in inverted mode, this can sometimes be the reason we do or don't pick up a game