Looking for a bit of nightmare fuel wrapped up in a deceptively cute watercolour setting with some adorable moppet protagonists? Gretel and Hansel 2, from Mako Pudding, is finally here, and the strange saga continues. After the events of the first game, Gretel and Hansel find themselves stranded in the woods, and it isn't long before they're separated as well. Much longer than the first chapter, with more puzzles to solve and more areas to explore, this sequel should be a welcome treat for fans of the weird and morbid.
If you played the original, then you'll be familiar with the controls, which use either [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move around, and the mouse to (usually) interact with things. Early on Gretel picks up a quaint Littlest Hobo-esque kerchief on a stick that she uses to carry the items she gathers, and you can open it by clicking on it and dragging items out to use them. Whenever you can interact with something, a cartoon bubble depicting an action appears above it when you get close enough. And, yes, there's even a mute button in the upper left corner if you get tired of the sound.
While your first objective is to reunite with Gretel's brother, it will quickly become apparent that you'll also want to find a way out of this forest which is filled with all manner of terrible waiting to happen to our intrepid heroine. Although you can die, and probably will at least once, death is a temporary setback and you'll resume playing from the last area you entered, and the auto-save means you can come back to the game whenever you like. Half the fun of the game lies in experimenting, so don't be afraid to make the obviously wrong choices now and again to see where they take you. Go ahead. Touch that bear with your soft, fleshy, chubby childlike hand. What could possibly go wrong. *flat stare*
Analysis: If you're of a certain age, the macabre tones herein are going to seem less like sacrilege to you. What Gretel and Hansel does really, really well is actually to capture the sense of creepy, wonderful strangeness that pervaded a lot of older children's movies, like Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal by way of Gullermo del Toro. While it's chock full of black humour and gore, including a lot of moments designed to make you feel like a terrible person for laughing at, it has a great otherworldly feeling with the strange spirits and denizens of the forest to explore that makes uncovering the dark secrets a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, Gretel and Hansel's biggest problem is that there's a lot of trial and error happening. Its offbeat world means that it isn't always immediately clear what you should do in any given situation, leading to that age old strategy of using everything in your inventory on everything else, everywhere. It doesn't help that finding the correct position to trigger an action button can frequently be a bit finicky, so even if you are using the right item in the right place, the game might not register it because you're not positioned just so.
Play both games in the Gretel and Hansel series:
Ultimately, this is the best kind of sequel; something that keeps all the elements of what made the original good and expands upon it in all the right ways. The finale may be a long time away, but judging by the impressive quality put forth in this middle chapter, we're going to have a lot to look forward to in the meantime. See? I'm a "glass half full" kinda gal. Of course, if I were Gretel, the glass would probably be full of nails and rabid rats. And also on fire. That girl has the worst luck.