Nothing beats the Great Outdoors!
I’ve played a few games that touch upon COVID-19 this year already, and they’ve been fairly bleak experiences. That makes sense of course — we are in the middle of a pandemic and all — but I don’t know about you guys, but I’m at a point where I need a little more positivity. Not that we have to pretend everything’s okay; instead, I just wonder if there’s something closer to my real experiences this year instead of only darkness and despair. And as someone who has basically only worked, played video games, and hiked, I wasn’t sure if I’d see that reflected in the interactive medium. I was therefore taken by surprise when I saw Tree Trunk Brook, a small, chill title about hiking in the woods in 2020.
Developed and self-published by The Sheep’s Meow, a group of friends who had to adjust their game development schedules and planning due to the pandemic, Tree Trunk Brook is a free download with a suggested donation of $2.99 on Steam and itch.io. A short and sweet title that encapsulates peaceful hiking with the minor adjustments required of us during this pandemic, Tree Trunk Brook is a truly unique experience that will keep players pleased for at least an hour. In the very least, your blood pressure will absolutely go down after hearing birdsong and running water. Ahhh, nature.
Players take on the role of a pink-haired, otherwise nondescript person who is clearly a frequent hiker around these parts, as other passersby take notice of their friend’s absence. It seems our pink-haired protagonist is often accompanied by another person, but they broke their leg so hiking is simply out of the question. No worries, we can do enough hiking for the two of them — and if we’re chasing achievements, we likely will be — as there are three separate trails calling our name with plenty of interesting sights to see throughout.
While out hiking and maintaining all social distancing guidelines, players will take notice of other hikers in the area. Some are foraging for mushrooms, others are snapping photos of the wildlife, but all have one thing in common — they’re missing an item of great import. While making the rounds on these well-worn trails, these items can be spotted, but only if you’re looking carefully. Returning them back to their owner not only yields an achievement, but also a little boost to their friendship meter. Chat with them on two additional hikes to increase their friendship meter to its full potential, gaining another achievement and learning more about how they’re adjusting to the pandemic at the same time.
Tree Trunk Brook has a mixture of aesthetics that, despite their differences, really work well together. In fact, a single glance at the aesthetics is what drew me to Tree Trunk Brook in the first place. I’m a massive fan of the pixelated background look on its own, and coupling it with really bright, cartoonish characters is absolutely charming. I did wish for more nature sounds played throughout, but I overall found the audio to be calming and peaceful. Overall, this is such a treat for the eyes and ears and again makes for a thoroughly unique experience.
I’m always hesitant to critique free games, but I will say that I did find Tree Trunk Brook to be perhaps a little too repetitive, and I do wish that it gave better or perhaps more lingering hints as to the whereabouts of the missing objects I’m supposed to take photos of. I spent most of my time searching for chipmunks after one hiker hinted they might be near the waterfall if I recall correctly, finally giving up and googling the location only to find it was nowhere near the waterfall. There’s also a leaderboard for picking up the most litter, which I find delightful in its messaging but ultimately incredibly tedious since litter doesn’t spawn very often. Which, you know, is a good thing for the environment, but kind of annoying if you’re literally just clicking around looking for trash. Finally, I regret to inform you that you cannot pet the dog. There is good reasoning behind it (social distancing), but I just thought you should know.
It’s always a pleasure to stumble upon a well-crafted game, and even moreso when it’s free. Tree Trunk Brook is a relaxing little title that will lower the blood pressure and allow players to venture into the woods at a time when people can’t really travel. Of course, those woods may be pixelated, but it’s really the thought that counts. So what are you waiting for? Get your cameras and masks ready, and take a hike with Tree Trunk Brook.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: The Sheep’s Meow; Developer: The Sheep’s Meow; Players: 1; Released: October 23, 2020; MSRP: FREE
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Tree Trunk Brook available for free.