By Andrew Webster From Gamezebo
There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to social games nowadays. They either have to be cute and fun experiences aimed at the more casual audience, or deep, strategic games for those who spend hours upon hours playing. Woodland Heroes bridges these two concepts beautifully. It's wonderfully charming, with a terrific art style and fun characters, but it also offers challenging turn-based strategy gameplay. It's a game about a war between cute little animals that can be enjoyed both by fans of war and fans of cute little animals.
Woodland Heroes takes place in a world of talking animals, where each species has its own kingdom. Initially you'll be defending the racoons against an invading army of evil bears, but eventually you'll discover new animal clans as well, some of whom will help, others who will fight against you, and at least one that will double cross you. It's a fun, lighthearted tale made all the more engaging by the snippy bits of dialog thrown in before and after each battle. It may not be particularly deep, but you'll definitely get a sense of the major characters after playing for a while.
But combat itself is where you'll spend most of your time. Battles in Woodland Heroes are turn-based and resemble the board game Battleship in a way. At first you'll place your weaponry -- which consists of a wide variety of different catapults -- but the twist is that you won't know where your enemy's weapons are, and they won't know where yours are. So each battle becomes about first discovering where you need to attack by blindly firing, and then finishing off your opponent before they can do the same. There are story missions, side missions, and every so often you'll need to reclaim a place on the map after enemies re-invade it.
As you take over new parts of the map and defeat enemies, you'll earn money and resources that can be used to build increasingly more useful weapons. And each type has its own strengths and weaknesses. Generally the larger catapults are more powerful but easier to find, while smaller ones don't have as much firing power but are less likely to be hit. The relatively large variety of weapons really lets you experiment with different techniques, which is especially useful when you come up against more challenging missions. And since weapons are gone for good when destroyed in battle, you'll be building lots of them.
Despite its combative nature, Woodland Heroes is downright adorable. The character designs wouldn't feel out of place in a blockbuster animated film and the weapons are varied, unique, and animate well. It's just a joy to look at, and the attention to detail is quite remarkable. Even the map screen is charming, as it looks like an actual, aging map while your weapon units are turned into little figures. So moving from one area to the next is like moving pieces on a board game.
The only issue with the game that we encountered is with how the energy system works. Each turn in combat drains a unit of energy, but so does simply moving your pieces from one area to another. This can feel a bit unfair at times, particularly after you lose a battle and need to move a number of units across the map.
But really, that's just one small niggle in an otherwise amazing experience. Woodland Heroes is challenging, charming, and just plain fun. It's the kind of game just about anyone can enjoy, thanks to its easy to understand, yet still strategic gameplay. And with its expansive map and unfolding narrative, it seems like there's only more to come.
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