• Hope Eliza

REVIEW: The First Tree – Nintendo Switch

Updated: Jun 8

but what DOES the fox say?

I’ve played a lot of walking simulation games. Some of the best examples of the genre include What Remains of Edith Finch (2017), Gone Home (2013) & Wide Ocean Big Jacket (2020). When I saw The First Tree – a walking sim game with a simplistic art style, beautiful soundtrack and adorable protagonists - on sale on the Nintendo eShop I jumped at the opportunity to play it. Although The First Tree had all the things I usually love in a game, I had a few issues with it.

In the game, players take control of a mother fox who is in search of her lost pups. Whilst she explores the terrain, we hear two narrators discuss Joseph’s dream of the mother fox and how it has made him reflect on his relationship with his father. As the mother fox searches the land, she uncovers relics from Joseph’s past which he delves into via voice over. There isn’t really much more to this game other than collecting sparks found along the way (which mean nothing in the end) and the occasional obstacle to climb/jump onto.

My main issue with this game was it’s throwing you in at the deep end approach. As you would enter an area as the fox you would have so far to explore and nothing to really tell you where to go or in what order. This meant I would uncover things; Joseph would narrate what they mean but they wouldn’t always make sense as I hadn’t uncovered the previous one in the order I should have for the story to connect. In fact, I played this game first time around, got halfway through and realised that I had missed vital parts of the voice over because I simply didn’t find all the relics and so I started the whole game again – this time with a walkthrough. Even the walkthrough I was reading seemed to be missing things out that I had found in my game, which made me think that perhaps they had also missed a relic or two on their playthrough. The story that they uncover is also ambiguous and you find it hard to sympathise with Joseph as you don’t really care about what happened between him and his father as he just sounds a bit whiny and you can’t seem to uncover the entire tale. The constant gaps in between narration also made the story forgettable as by the time you had got from one side of the scenery to the other you had mainly lost interest in the point they were trying to make.

I understand that this game was primarily made by one person; David Wehle – along with assistance from other programmers, artists and even his wife Elise Wehle for voice acting – so this game is an impressive feat on it’s own and I don’t want to diminish that. However, I did find multiple examples of glitches throughout the game where the fox would land between 2 rocks for example and get stuck just on its side, just like if you were to drop a toy animal into a small gap. It didn’t take much to resolve these kinds of issues though, it’s just something that myself and other people online had mentioned; how difficult some of the maneuvering in this game can be. Lastly, I found that If I wasn’t already super frustrated with getting lost (as everything in each area looks exactly the same and there seemed to be very little help in the ways of orienteering), I would soon get extremely frustrated when I came across a level set at night or in a storm or even if I had to pass through a cave. I know it’s April now and the sun does cause glare on the TV when playing but it should not be THAT hard to see where I’m going. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know if the fox was actually making any distance as she would just be running into a wall, but I couldn’t tell because it was so dark! Lastly, the story doesn’t seem to offer any solace or sentimental take away as (SPOILER ALERT, SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH TO MISS) all three of the mother’s pups are killed, Joseph’s dad dies (I’m still not sure why as I must have missed the part of the story that tells us this) without patching things up with Joseph and in the end, the mother fox also disappears. The game then asks you towards the end to write a message to the pups as if you are their mother – I guess hoping to trigger us to reflect on personal loss – which to me, just felt gimmicky and hard to do seeing as I was too frustrated at the game to pity any of the characters.

Despite all the negative comments I have about this game, I still wouldn’t call it a bad game. With a run time of only 2 hours (which even I found dragged towards the end), this game is fine if you don’t mind spending the majority of the game traipsing around the Alaskan wilderness to uncover a story that doesn’t mean a whole lot. With its elegant orchestral soundtrack and soft voice over though, it could be the perfect short game for those of you that just want a relaxing game to switch off with. Especially during these turbulent real-world times. I just found that when compared with the likes of the games mentioned at the start of this review that has very similar if not even more stripped back gameplay mechanics and story; The First Tree was rather disappointing.

The First Tree is available now on Steam, PS4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch.

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