Paying homage to retro titles can be a tricky thing. Do you stick to an established formula, or do you stray and carve out your own path? Timothy and the Mysterious Forest does a bit of both. One glance at Kibou Entertainment’s top-down adventure, and it’s clear that this game owes an awful lot to The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening; the visuals, the layout, and the music are all remarkably crafted to emulate the feel of the Game Boy classic, but dig a bit deeper into its gameplay and you’ll find a wholly different – and sadly inferior – experience altogether.
You take on the role of Timothy, whose grandfather is on death’s door unless he is administered with a magical mushroom to relieve him of his ailments. The mushroom is hidden within the ‘Mysterious Forest’ itself, requiring Timothy to embark on an exceptionally dangerous quest to save his grandfather. The story is minimal, at best, but the game is littered with interesting characters, whether it be shopkeepers or ancient creatures, and most have at least something worth hearing, even if it doesn’t necessarily have a direct impact on your quest.
The core gameplay is a cross between classic 2D Zelda elements and rather loose stealth mechanics. Timothy has the ability to attack enemies by chucking pots at them wherever possible, but most of the time, you’ll be required to avoid their gaze and work your way around them in order to safely reach the next screen. Both options are fraught with issues; the attack mechanic is wildly inaccurate at the best of times, and should you fail to hit your foe, chances are you’ll die immediately after. Avoiding their gaze is similarly hit-and-miss; it’s almost impossible to determine what direction your enemies will be facing at any given time, so you can certainly wait for them to turn your back if you wish, but too often they’ll spin back around almost immediately, catching you completely off guard.
If we had one word to describe the difficulty of Timothy and the Mysterious Forest, we’d say it’s unfair. The mechanics set in place to defend yourself or avoid your enemies are simply too unreliable, and when you read the words ‘R.I.P Timothy’ on the screen for the twentieth time in a row, you’ll want to throw in the towel. This level of difficulty also extends to world design too; early on, you’ll come across an area of the map known as the ‘forest maze’, and there’s only one possible route through in order to reach your goal. The problem is there are pits dotted around the maze that will instantly kill you upon contact, and these aren’t even remotely designated; it’s completely trial and error as to whether you’ll come across one of them. Oh, and then you have to make it back out via the exact same route.
Timothy and the Mysterious Forest is absolutely a case of style over substance. It definitely looks and sounds the part; the developer has gone to clear lengths to emulate the feel of a classic Game Boy game. The problem is that when attempting to emulate the difficulty of a retro adventure title, they’ve gone one step too far and made the game a chore to play thanks to a number of unreliable mechanics and unfair enemy encounters.