The people behind the extraordinarily memorable Old Man's Journey strike back with a gripping adventure about an endangered Gibbon monkey.
I loved Broken Rule's last game Old Man's Journey. A rare atmospheric, poignant little indie project that moved to the edge of the adventure genre and told a story about life, death, grief and love. Now the little indie studio is back with a new iPhone adventure called Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, in which we take on the role of a bright pink Gibbon monkey.
Gibbons are an endangered species, and the World Wildlife Fund wrote just last month that it estimates there are only about 30 monkeys left in the wild on the planet. The gibbon monkey lives exclusively on the Hainan Peninsula outside China and has been threatened with extinction for the past 20 years due to environmental degradation, deforestation, natural disasters and poaching, and with this game Broken Rules wants to make us all aware that we are well on our way to wiping out another species from our planet.
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Gibbon: Beyond the Trees begins up in the trees of the prettiest forest I've seen in years, and through a few brief introductory seconds we are introduced to a Gibbon mother, her new-born and an older daughter, who the player shoulders the role of. The game mechanics are super simple but require a lot of practice to really master. When I put both thumbs down on the screen, my monkey runs. If I release both thumbs, she jumps and if I put my right thumb, whilst in the air, against the bottom of the screen, my monkey automatically grabs the nearest branch or vine and swings on it until I release my thumb, again. It's all about holding the button down long enough for the monkey not to lose her grip and fall to the ground, but not too long because then you lose speed and can't jump to the next tree, or branch. It's all about rhythm and timing, and it took me at least 35 minutes to really get to grips with the swinging mechanics here, which are reminiscent of everything from Marvel's Spider-Man to Bionic Commando.
For the first half-hour I swing through lush green, pristine rainforest environments that whiz by at breakneck speed, while the next half-hour is marked by environmental destruction, and fire. In the background, excavators and construction sites are exposed, trees are on fire and my monkey will burn to death if she accidentally touches the ground. The pace doesn't pick up, but the intensity does, given the surroundings, and without speech, text or cutscenes, Gibbon manages to be gripping, very quickly. As with the quite extraordinary Old Man's Journey, Broken Rules tells a story through gameplay and through its unabashedly well-designed environments that are instantly heart-breaking.
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After the sequences of fire and the excavators clearing the rainforest, you come to areas where people live and where the trees have been cut down and turned into timber. My Gibbon has nowhere to grab or nothing to swing with, forcing the player to throw herself between live power lines. While this is happening, poachers appear shooting at the monkeys and the key here is not to lose speed, not to lose altitude, or you'll get shot and die.
Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is not very long. It lasts about an hour, but that's okay. Or it's enough, rather. In that time, the player has travelled through lots of gorgeous environments, each telling a story that firmly leaves its mark. I know things about gibbons now that I didn't know the day before yesterday, and I've taken the opportunity to read a bit about the species and the fact that we all need to help each other to preserve it. In that way, Broken Rule's latest iPhone adventure is a very successful one, spreading a sensible, important message without ramming it down the throat of the player.
8 / 10
Mechanically challenging despite its simplicity. Gorgeous design. Great music. Great message.