Gibbon: Beyond the Trees (2022)
Developer: Broken Rules
Alright, I'm changing up the pace today and bringing it back to my trusty Switch, fueled by the recent Nintendo Indie World showcase. I love watching these Indie directs and making a list of new games coming to Switch that I hadn't heard of yet. One of these games announced was Gibbon: Beyond the Trees. I loved the art style that was shown and the fact that it was about real-life animal conservation awareness. Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is an endless runner platformer where you play as a gibbon swinging through the jungle as their habitat gets slowly taken away. Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is an beautiful, fun game to spark awareness about endangered animals, but the gameplay can feel slow, unpolished, burdensome.
You start the game as a pink gibbon, accompanied by what seems to be their family - a partner yellow gibbon and a purple baby gibbon. Your partner, the yellow gibbon carrying the purple baby gibbon on its back, shows you how to swing from tree to tree by using your momentum at the edge of branches. The controls are few and simple - hold one button to swing on branches and let go of that button to let go and swing on to the next surface. The secondary button is used to run and you'll let go of it to jump, which you'll use on slopes or if you end up on the ground. Even if you're inclined to use the joystick, it doesn't do anything in this game, as your gibbon is always consistently moving forward. The only way to gain speed is to land your swings well and to use a third button to perform a flip mid-air between swings. Lastly, your partner gibbon will sometimes jump above you and swing you forward with their own momentum, giving you a short and sudden boost forward. At first, you're in a jungle full of tall trees and vines, giving you plenty of high places to swing from. However, as you progress through the game, you'll end up a small human town that only provides you with occasional trees, power lines, and roofs to use. It's definitely a change of scenery and isn't as easy to swing quickly through. In this human-dense area is where you encounter danger for the first time, and your family is torn apart. You must do everything you can to get the baby gibbon back after they've been captured by the humans.
I mentioned that what visually drew me to Gibbon: Beyond the Trees was the colorful, hand-painted style. The strong coloring given to each of the gibbons makes it easier to identify yourself in this fast-paced platformer. The world is very alive and rich, at least at first, full of animals and sometimes humans as well. I was pleasantly surprised to find the soundtrack was by scntfc, the same artist who made music for previously reviewed games Oxenfree and Old Man's Journey. The music is bubbly and relaxing, with some fun dramatic tracks like Lion's Den for the more high-action moments. It gives a similar vibe as the music in Old Man's Journey for sure - makes sense, as I learned after playing this game I learned these two games were actually made by the same studio. Both ahave a somewhat similar, vibrant cell-shaded style and both use simple gameplay mechanics and the environment to their story.
I'm not typically a huge fan of games that I consider "endless runners" or in other words, games where the player character is automatically advancing regardless of your controls. In Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, I at least appreciated that the game isn't forcing you to advance too fast. You're still able to take in the environment and respond appropriately, most of the time. However, it's bound to happen that you miss and swing and end up on the floor. You move very slow when you're on the ground, even if you hold the run button, and sometimes getting back up high takes a lot of effort. I wish there was a way to build more momentum while on the ground, as sometimes I was really into the game but I had a big fall in an area where there weren't any good trees around and ended up having to just annoyingly run through the ground for a while. It sort of takes you out of the immersion for that brief moment. Another note to add is that it's a little ridiculous how long the game takes to load up. When you try to open the game, you end up looking at the same black loading screen for over a minute. This wasn't just the first time I started the game, this is anytime I booted up the game. It was pretty dang frustrating especially since this would otherwise be a perfect switch game to jump into whenever, on the go, for short sessions at a time. Also, less often, there was an issue of the game slowing down or lagging in new areas, especially ones that were heavy populated with humans. I can understand this happening, but it's pretty disruptive in an endless runner game like this where you can't change your pace to compensate for it.
Aside from the excellent visuals, the main reason I impulsively decided to pick up Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is because its focus on animal conservation and liberation. Gibbons are just one species of animals that are exploited by humans for capitalistic reasons, but it does an excellent job of showing you what this really means and how it impacts the animals' lives and well-being. You get to experience what normal life is like for a gibbon, being free and spending time with their family, safe in their lush habitat. The game takes you through a gradual conversation of their habitat into something else. From small human villages, to wildfires, to huge roads and pollution. Not only does the world change visually, but it actually becomes more difficult for you, the gibbon, to move around the world. There are more dangers, less trees, and your family is even being hunted. Despite the game having no dialogue or narration, you feel emotionally invested in the gibbons and it hurts to see their family torn apart. It feels extremely satisfying to liberate not only your fellow gibbons, but other animals who have been similarly captured and exploited by humans.
Gibbons: Beyond the Trees appears to be a short game but actually has a lot of post-game completion for you to tackle, if that's what you're in to. I finished the main story and played the post-game content for a while, but it consists of more strategically moving through the world to liberate every caged animal you encounter. I think this game was very well thought-out in its message and in providing a new perspective for the player. It has some flaws in its gameplay but it's nonetheless a catchy game you can continue to play and master as it gets more challenging in the post-game. I recommend it if you're a fan of endless runner platformers, or if you just want to play a game that reminds us: animals are not ours to use for our own consumption and greed.
Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is available on PC, Switch, and Apple Store
If you would like to learn more about gibbon and other animal conservation efforts, visit the game's website linked above and consider donating to one of the following organizations.
Played on: Switch
Playtime: 2.5 hrs