Senna and the Forest (2019)
Developer: Dastan Games
Disclaimer: I received this game for free from the developer.
In case you hadn't heard, Sleepy Toadstool now has a curator page on Steam, so all games reviewed that are accessible on Steam can now be found here. The curator page has given the reviews some visibility to new audiences, and part of that includes having my first review request via Steam! I had a chance to play this brand new release, Senna and the Forest, a game with a bit of a strange synopsis. Senna and the Forest is an investigation puzzle game where you talk to trees.
Reading the short description of Senna and the Forest and learning "you must talk to trees and learn about their families" definitely raised some questions, but had me interested right away. In Senna and the Forest, you play as a human in a post-apocalyptic world where there doesn't appear to be many, if any, humans left. You're seemingly alone in a forest, until you speak to some trees. They tell you that you must find the heart of the forest, and thus you embark on a mission through the forest where you must help the trees in order to travel further inwards.
I'm new to investigation-type games: I always thought that sounded like a lot of thinking work for a game. I'm not sure why, since I enjoy doing challenging puzzles in games. I figured this would be a good way to try out the genre, though. You have to figure out the name of each of the trees and how they are related to each other, connecting them in an actual genealogical tree. Trees will give you hints either about their own identity or that of other trees in the forest. Some trees won't talk to you at all, and some trees will talk to you about the history of the forest without giving you any actual hints. However, you are given just enough to start putting the pieces together. You'll need to talk to trees multiple times and analyze their words closely, a difference as minute as "my brother" as opposed to "my brothers" gives away a whole lot. It feels really satisfying when you assign trees to their respective place and get a successful tone when they're all correct.
Due to the state of the forest and the harm done by humans, many of the trees have been infected with different ailments. It helps distinguish them when some trees look blue, red, or have no leaves at all - and yet, it's really quite sad to hear about how these diseases have affected the families of trees. You start to empathize with the trees, worried about their family members, or knowing their own life is coming to an end soon. Justifiably, many are not very trusting of humans after what they've experienced, and refuse to tell you much information. Even just the location where they stand can give away some information as to who they are, though. There's a couple times you have all the information you've been given and you still just gotta take a shot in the dark and make a guess. There's no loss for making wrong assumptions, though, and the game gives you plenty of time to think about it and try again.
One small complaint I have is the lack of background music in Senna and the Forest. There's good sound effects, even, but no real music during the game. Especially since so much time is spent walking back and forth between trees, staring at the genealogical tree, and just thinking, it'd be nice to have some peaceful ambient music. It wouldn't have to be excellent, just something fitting of a forest environment. I did really appreciate the unique choice to use a very geometric art style despite this being a story about trees and the natural world. You also travel through different worlds, with satisfyingly different palettes than the previous, but always bright and colorful.
Senna and the Forest has a story that clearly echoes our current position in terms of climate change and deforestation. The trees tell you the story of how man selfishly tore into the forests in search of power, and yet, "the calamity" is what actually took the world to its brink and near-destruction. As supernatural as that sounds ("the calamity" definitely reminds me of Breath of the Wild), it's actually just described the same way as is described Earth's changes in response to our upcoming and inevitable climate crisis. I didn't expect this short game to delve so smoothly and accurately into a very real issue, especially taking place in this somewhat fantastical world. The build-up towards the end feels exciting and important, and yet, the actual ending was a little bit of a let-down. I won't spoil anything, but I just thought it'd be a more grandiose and prolonged moment when you reach your goal.
Senna and the Forest stood out to me as a perfect example of how high quality a game can be despite being short experience and being made by a very small studio. Props to the two developers and founders of Dastan games for creating something seemingly simple yet very meaningful. I perhaps would have never stumbled upon this little gem if they hadn't reached out to me, so I'm grateful for the opportunity. It's a very inexpensive game to pick up on Steam, so I definitely recommend it for a few hours of fun puzzle investigation.
Senna and the Forest is available for PC.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 2 hr