Pretty But Flat: A Review of Wooden Sen’SeY

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Wooden Sen’SeY follows the hero, Goro, as he tries to reclaim all the booze (or water, or lighter fluid!?) that has been stolen by a bad guy in a spaceship (Robotnik-esque machine of some sort, hopefully powered by small woodland creatures, no one’s sure). It’s set up like an arcade game of old (minus the nacho stains)–there are extra lives, only a few buttons required, and even a screen for once you’ve run out of lives and are offered the chance to “Try Again?” It’s more platformer than beat-em-up, but it still offers an interesting variety of enemies. And looking from a strictly game-mechanic standpoint, Wooden Sen’Sey is unremarkable.

What initially drew me in is the aesthetics. There are nine levels, each with its own distinct atmosphere and background. Every one struck me–at the beginning of each level, I paused and just took a moment to appreciate the art.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite enough to outweigh the game’s main problem: balance.

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Sections felt either too easy or too hard, but were never just that right balance to make it challenging while still fun. A clear indicator that they knew this was a problem but couldn’t fix it was the placement of extra lives. However, unlike other games, these extra lives aren’t bonuses for a job well done, or easter eggs hidden for only the dedicated to find – they’re out in the open just before a challenging part. The designers knew that this boss fight would be a problem, so they give you an extra life so you can run through it as many times as you want.

Often these extra lives are also placed by a savepoint, so each time you die you respawn somewhere nearby, grab your extra life, and try again. While it is considerate (because yes, the boss fight was too hard for me), it shows that they needed to give us that pass because the game’s balance was off.

The balance issue isn’t limited to the gameplay, either–it applies to the whole game. In this case, I mean how the game’s levels interact with each other to create a big picture.

For instance, there’s a submarine level. It feels totally out of place, doesn’t make sense, and I found it awkward. I suppose they were trying to break up the monotony that a bunch of platformer levels could become, but it was early enough in the game to simply seem incongruous. I get that sometimes you have an idea and you think it’d be super cool, but sometimes you need to look at the bigger picture. Looking at the game as a whole, the underwater sub level was just silly.

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Looking at another issue, there’s an awkward Venn diagram in my head, where the circles are labelled “Racism” “Stereotyping” and “Caricatures.” I’m not sure how much of each circle overlaps with the others; often, I think they might all overlap completely. This game, with stereotypical hero Goro who grumbles in Hollywood-style Japanese “Sensei” style makes me revisit that diagram.

After playing it, I think it’s more of a caricature parody, but it dances a little too close to racism for me to be completely relaxed about it. It’s a balancing act between the things that make it funny and the things that make it uncomfortable, and again I think they missed the mark.

Wooden Sen’SeY is not a bad game, nor is it particularly good. The cool backgrounds don’t really make up for the balance issues in the gameplay, the level design, and the racist/stylized aesthetic. While it may appeal to diehard platformer fans, for the rest of us I don’t think it’s worth the $15 they’re asking.