Once Upon A Time
I’ve always been a huge fan of fairy tales. Whether of the horrifying, traumatizing Brothers Grimm variety, or the watered down Disney versions. They remind me of being a kid, and there’s just something so wonderfully nostalgic about them. Enter Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood, a mashup of Little Red Riding Hood and The Wizard of Oz, developed by Devespresso Games. A puzzle-solving adventure game, Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood takes players on a journey through the magical land of Glome.
I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore…
The game begins with the titular character Scarlet and her merry band heading to Nashville in search of their big break. On their way home, the weather turns nasty, and before she can find safety, poor Scarlet is sucked up by a tornado. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a strange world full of magic and fairytale creatures. Since Scarlet Hood is such a story-heavy game, I don’t want to give away too much, but I can tell you this: Once Scarlet wakes up, she finds the remains of the Red Witch, and finds herself taking up the mantle. Unfortunately, she’s cursed to relive the same day over and over until she can figure out how to thwart the wicked witch LeFaba (if you get the reference, we are already friends). It’s up to you to guide her through trials and tribulations to finally make it through the day alive.
Wander the Wicked Wood
Scarlet Hood revolves around exploration. At the start of each (repeated) day, you’ll be able to explore a new area of Glome. The goal is to find a way to thwart LeFaba and be able to make your way successfully through the eponymous Wicked Wood. Each area contains something (or someone) that should allow you to make it further through the Wicked Wood with each attempt. Exploration is 2D, letting you move left and right, and it works really well for the game. You can stroll leisurely around, though Scarlet moves admittedly slowly just walking. You can hold down the shift key in order to get her to run, but you’ll need to keep an eye on the stamina bar in the upper left; exhaust your stamina, and you’ll be forced to slow down until Scarlet recovers.
Puzzle, Puzzle, On the Wall. Which is the Most Difficult of All?
Littered along your path are obstacles in the form of puzzles and LeFaba’s minions. Puzzles are where this game shines. Each puzzle is incredibly unique, and the vast majority of them are challenging. Some puzzles are pretty straightforward: collect the pieces to repair a machine and then assemble it, or find clues for the combination to a locked box. Some of the puzzles are… esoteric, to say the least. There’s a particular puzzle involving wires and electricity, and honestly, the solution to it still doesn’t make any sense. And, of course, like any good puzzle game, some of the puzzles were deceptively simple, designed to make you overthink, and I felt delightfully dumb after nearly having a rage-stroke over not finding the solution.
He’ll Huff and He’ll Puff, and Claw Your Face Off
The other obstacle you’ll need to overcome are LeFaba’s dastardly minions. There are the obligatory flying monkeys, as well as, of all things, dodos. Specifically, dodos wearing armor, which is so cute I almost can’t take them seriously. Which is a bad idea, because they can and will hurt you. Scarlet has five hearts, and LeFaba’s henchmen are all too happy to deplete them. The flying monkeys love to pop out of the forest near the top of the screen to shoot darts at poor Scarlet. If you get hit, you’ll either lose a heart, or you could end up poisoned. Dodos, meanwhile, prowl the forest without hiding, and you’ll need to be careful to get around them. Thankfully, Scarlet does have an evasion move you can activate by hitting the spacebar, but you’ll need to time it carefully. You’ll also need to watch your stamina, as the evasion move takes a pretty hearty chunk of energy to execute.
LeFaba’s other minion is her familiar, the big bad wolf. Once you reach a certain point in a given area, he’ll begin prowling, and evading him was easily one of my favorite parts of the game. He’s significantly faster and smarter than other enemies, and is all too happy to continually pursue you, even when you’re running away. The only way to truly avoid the wolf is to find empty totem pedestals and transform yourself into a totem pole to hide. You’ll have to be fast about it, though; should the wolf see you transform, he won’t hesitate to attack you, forcing you to flee again.
Thankfully, there are healing items that you can either find or purchase to recover hearts and remove status ailments. Healing foods and potions can be found hidden about each area you explore. You’ll also find golden coins that you can use at a shop to purchase healing items. If you play your cards right, it’s not too hard to avoid damage, but should you mess up, it’s not too hard to get healed up.
A Hand-Drawn Storybook Adventure
The art style of Scarlet Hood is simply incredible. Everything has a beautifully hand-drawn quality to it, making it feel like a story book that’s come to life. Character portraits are absolutely gorgeous, the enemies are adorable (except for the appropriately terrifying wolf), and the environments are beautiful. Forests are lush, snowy areas are appropriately desolate, to name just a few. The music is really good, too. Often jazzy, frequently catchy, and always appropriate to the setting. The artistic direction of this game is easily one of my favorite parts of the whole experience.
One thing I would like to address is that during my initial playthrough, Scarlet Hood was unfortunately riddled with bugs. Frequent crashes were bad enough that it would force my computer to restart without me being able to stop it from happening. Thankfully, the developers took the feedback from players and worked really hard to fix things. It took several patches, but now the game appears to be perfectly stable. I really appreciate that they took the time to really hunt down the bugs and ensure they were fixed.
Challenging, Quirky, and Wonderful
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood. Wonderfully storybook-esque, with a surprisingly moving story, and full of great humor, Scarlet Hood is a unique experience. If I had to nitpick, I’d say that some of the puzzles are perhaps a little too esoteric, but none of them are truly unsolvable. With multiple endings offering plenty of replay value, there’s a lot to recommend for Scarlet Hood.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: WhisperGames, Headup; Developer: Devespresso Games; Players: 1; Released: April 8, 2021; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Scarlet Hood and the Wicked Wood provided by the publisher.