I knew of the good word of developer Cococucumber going into Ravenlok after the press the studio got on their last game, Echo Generation, knowing that I had at least some excitement for their next game coming to PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Sadly, I never got a sense that Ravenlok met those expectations, as I came out of the game more disappointed and bored with what I got to play in this mixed bag of a game.
That’s not to say Ravenlok is a bad game, but I can’t necessarily say it’s good either; it’s just kind of an OK game with an uninspired narrative that, on the brighter side, is visually beautiful to look at thanks to Ravenlok’s approach to its unique art style and environments.
Ravenlok puts you in control of a young girl who you can name yourself; I went basic and just called her ‘Raven’. She moves into a new house in rural Canada to get away from big city life after her family inherits the estate from a missing relative. After helping her parents with some errands, they suggest playing in the barn, which is where you find a mysterious-looking mirror. After dusting off the mirror—something the player will do a lot—a furry hand pops out and grabs you, pulling you closer into the now-glass portal, which transports her into the magical world of Dunia.
Transported from Canada to Another World
The one who isekai-ed our Canadian protagonist is a talking clothed bipedal rabbit by the name of Finn; he reveals that you are the fabled Ravenlok, a prophesied hero who will save the kingdom from the dark clutches of the corrupted Caterpillar Queen of Hearts and bring light back to the lands… a classic tale. To grasp the legend of Ravnelok, in the opening hour of the game, Raven quickly learns how to fight after finding a sword and shield around the limited area you can explore as the game slowly teaches the mechanics of Ravenlok, including attacking, defending, replenishing health, throwing bombs, and using special attacks.
As well this training session increases the speed of your character who only walked slowly in the early hour of the game. Now Raven can sprint run after a click of the left stick and as well short dash while running to avoid any upcoming attacks at the last minute. Some of the enemies that players will be able to encounter include mushroom-like monsters, court jesters, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a three-headed dragon, playing-card guardsmen, and, of course, the big bad, the Queen herself.
I played Ravenlok in short bursts, probably two-hour sessions at max, as the game never hooked me enough to make me want to play longer as I felt it was a chore to get through at times. One saving grace of the game is that it’s relatively short, as I completed the game in four sessions, but my approach was literally, “If I can, I want to do everything,” and I did just that, but for those that just want to streamline the game, you can probably beat Ravenlok in four to six hours.
A Story Based on Alice in Wonderland
What isn’t so great is the narrative, which is based on Alice in Wonderland, something that has been attempted before in gaming, but this time around it is done in a way that doesn’t do a great job separating itself from the source material. I don’t feel like Ravenlok herself grows as a character; for me, there is no difference between where you started and where it ends, like it was all a fetch quest amusement ride and the huge cast of characters was there to “say hi” or wave along the way. Ravenlok is a smaller game, so maybe I’m judging a little harshly by focusing too much on the story, but it didn’t hook me in the way I thought it would although that’s not the only place where it falls flat for me. Ravenlok plays like any action-adventure RPG, but for me, although it never hooked me or felt polished enough to play, whenever I got into a fight, I usually dreaded it as it felt like I was playing an Unreal Engine fan game, and not in a good way.
Normal attacks felt truly like a barebone attempt with no real heart or good enough audio design to them like they weren’t given enough time to feel more authentic like in other action RPGs. It doesn’t that enemy AI is almost non-existence and doesn’t offer a challenge to the player; it just takes your attack while only responding after you stop. Although when it came to the game’s special attacks (up to four you learn throughout the game), the animation on these felt so much better to use, I still had an issue with the audio design choice. Other issues I had included camera movements, which were severely limited to 180 degrees (at best); it was like the developer went out of their way to not let the player see what’s actually “behind the camera.”
Limited Camera That Gets in the Way at Times
This decision had a huge impact on gameplay for me because whenever I got into a huge area to fight a boss or other enemies that went past the game’s camera view, I couldn’t turn to face them. The only choice was really to just follow them without any idea where I was going while going to the south border (behind the camera) of the map to see them again and resume attacking. This choice was super limiting to anyone who has played any 3D action game with full camera movement, and even though Ravenlok isn’t much of a hard game, I still question the existence of the limitation but that’s the sacrificial beast of game development, I guess.
Ravenlok is a unique approach to the action RPG genre because fighting enemies will earn you two things: first, coins, which you can use to buy items from shops to replenish your health, different types of bombs, and more. The second thing is experience points for level progression; that’s a staple for any game in the genre, but in Ravenlok, no matter how many experience points Raven has, she cannot level up by herself. To level up, you have to go to a shop in the Mushroom Forest where you can redeem your experience points to level up, which upgrade your health, stamina, strength, and all the attack stats of your special moves.
Gather Experience And Redeem it in Shop to Level Up
I kind of like this approach for some reason, as it’s a bit mysterious how much you can level up with the number of experience points you’ve accumulated so far, but physically going to a place to level up is a bit of a chore, so I would have loved it if this gameplay system was in the menu instead. As you explore the world of Ravenlok, the player will go to multiple locations as they seek out the three major heart collectibles that act as keys to unlock the Queen’s castle.
To make it easier to go back to these locations, Ravenlok does feature a fast travel system in the form of those mirrors I previously mentioned; after dusting them off, you can come back to an area at any point in the game. There aren’t many customization options, but you can wear several hats by completing the main or side quest lines that you can get as you play through the game, like a witch’s hat, a mad hatter’s hat, or even the queen’s crown.
Ravenlok Is A Beautiful Minecraft-like With Visuals and Environment To Match
Ravenlok is the grand finale of the Cococucumber Voxel Trilogy and the most impressive aspect of this final entry has to be its visuals, Cococucumber’s approach to a 3D Minecraft-like blocking art style makes this game pop in a cool cartoony sort of way that almost feels ageless. Not just talking about Ravenlok‘s characters here but its beautiful environments and vistas that players will be able to explore which at times I got lost in.
So much so that their’s were moments while fidgeting with the frustrating camera limitation that I took a step and really looked at what the game’s artist made and I’m honestly astonished by it. I never had any technical issues while playing but the lack of 60 FPS gameplay was a little lacking for an optimized Xbox Series X|S title.
Ravenlok isn’t an enjoyable experience but not because it’s a bad game, more so it’s just hard to want to sink your time into. It’s not what I expected going but coming out Ravenlok is very much a by-the-numbers game with repetitive gameplay with no real heart to it that feels like something like out of an Unreal Engine fan game. The game’s narrative feels uninspired to do something new while struggling to stand on its own from the source material it’s based on. On the positive side, Ravenlok has a unique approach to level progression and a great art style that invokes a lot of Minecraft energy.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Xbox Series S