We all know the story of Little Red Riding Hood and how she went flopping through the forest woods on an errand for her grandma who lived in a house made of gingerbread. On the way, she met a wolf who had just killed and consumed three large hams, and was looking for a dessert with a strawberry-caped topping. And then Red Riding Hood picks up a stray Kalashnikov rifle and goes ape. I think that’s how it goes, doesn’t it? Anyhow, there’s a puzzle game about it by South African indie devs, RetroEpic. Without the Kalashnikov, of course. And this time, Red doesn’t know precisely which cottage is her Grandma’s. And off we go, a skipping through the woods.

Remember that tile-switching game you used to get in old lucky packets? You know, it either made a poorly-printed picture of a bunny with a flower stuck up its ear, or was numbered from 1 to 15 (with a gap being the 16th tile), and you had to slide the tiles around to rearrange things in the correct order? If you were really good at the puzzle, you could rearrange it to make it look like the rabbit had the flower stuck up its…other ear.

A Day in the Woods plays a bit like that, except the tiles are hexagonal, and you simply need to get a single tile from one point of the board to another one on the very far end of the board. That one tile contains Red herself whom you have to get to the cottage, and you control a sprite that seems to have the magical ability to make tiles switch places. The concept is fairly simple, so naturally it’s complicated in the most delightful way by several new game mechanics every few levels. For example, you soon need to start avoiding bears (Ed: bears? I agree that “Big Bad Bear” is far more alliterative attraction than “Big Bad Wolf”, but I don’t recall the story being filled with bears. You sure this isn’t Goldilocks we’re playing with here?). The bears are scared of fire, so while you can move the bears around, you can’t move them close to burning campfires. And you can’t bring Red near the bears, and so starts an intricate dance of moving pieces around the board within the rules. Couple that with spiders, bunnies, honey, unmovable pieces, and the inevitable wolf (just to begin with!), and you’ve got a lot of puzzle headed your way. Your traditional lucky packet sliding puzzle this ain’t.

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All of the above gameplay is further complicated by the fact that a star is awarded for completing the level, another star awarded for completing it within a certain number of moves, and you’ll gain a third star for collecting all the flowers or fruit dotted around the level. It’s fairly easy to obtain one or two stars, but obtaining all three can be quite difficult, especially later on. Egging you onward to earning stars is that fact that as you earn stars, you unlock various art styles for the sprite you control, and for the tileset. As with this style of puzzle game, you can easily go back to prior levels you hadn’t completed properly and try again.

I tried the game on a 5-inch screen, and while it was fairly responsive, it still took a short bit of time to do each tile move as I waited for each animation cycle to complete. So even if I knew the solution, it would be a case of “tap, pause, tap, pause” as I played each level. Realistically, though, it was more like “tap, long pause for thought, tap, move not allowed, tap, long pause to think”. Some of the levels can be truly tricky!

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Overall, there are 60 levels to play with, but even if you manage to reach the last stage quickly, it’ll likely take you a while longer to finish all of them with a three-star rating. At some point, a kind of fridge logic sets in: if you think too hard about it, you figure that if there are 60 levels, that means that there are at least 59 other cottages in the woods that aren’t Grandma’s. That’s a fairly crowded wood. Any more people and you might as well start building apartments. Anyhow, what I liked about this game over something like, say, Angry Birds, is that you know precisely what you need to do to get those stars. It’s just the “doing it” part that’s difficult. A Day in the Woods is extremely unforgiving in this way. Go even a single step over your move par, and you might as well restart the stage.

One feature I did feel was missing was the inclusion of a rewind function. Some boards can take in excess of 50 moves to solve properly, and a single mis-tap means going all the way back to the start of the stage again. I COULD just tap more carefully, I guess, but a rewind would be a great feature here. Furthermore, for us colourblind gamers, the game contains a heck of a lot of similar colours in the red/green/brown end of the spectrum. This makes it difficult to tell which tiles can’t be moved ,for example, since they have a red border. It also means that every level I have to spend a good few seconds looking for Red herself, or looking for the collectibles. A way of highlighting the various movable elements in a bright colour on the far end of the spectrum (blue’s a wonderful highlight colour!) would have gone a long way towards making the game easier for the colourblind.

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If you enjoy your puzzle games, this one will definitely give you pause at some points, but when you go back to it the solution, once so dratted elusive, now seems so obvious. Hindsight, clearly, has perfect vision, although you should seriously question why some people have eyes on their behinds. Overall, though, the game is a good deal of fun, especially in the short bursts that Android games are best known for. It can be played to at least one-star completion on each level within a few hours, but it’s going to take a good deal longer to three-star everything. That’s a fair amount of entertainment for the price, so we recommend you go for it. And in the process, you’re helping grow South Africa’s indie development scene.

Final Score: 7.5 Red Riding Prawns out of 10

Detailed Information:
Developer: RetroEpic
Platforms: Android (reviewed), iOS, Steam
RRP: TBA
Website: http://www.retroepic.com/our-games/a-day-in-the-woods/