One of the most exciting announcements from the recent Nintendo Indie World Showcase was Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, a visually striking side-scroller where you play as an eponymous ape swinging across a rapidly changing world. Perhaps the best element of that trailer was that the game landed on the very same day as the showcase, meaning players can dig into it now. For a small indie game, it’s truly worth trying out – if not for the engaging and rhythmic swinging mechanics, then the powerful message that lies at its core.
You play as a pink-furred gibbon, raising a small child alongside your yellow counterpart. The first few chapters of the hour-long story mode introduce you to their rainforest habitat, swinging in the brush alongside birds and other animals. But things soon take a turn for the tragic, as poachers begin burning down the forest and chopping down trees, as well as trying to exterminate the wildlife found within.
It’s an incredibly poignant little story whose message strikes a very real chord, without a single line of dialogue required. Some moments are truly heart-wrenching, with exhilarating set-pieces and the odd shocking moment that shows you just how vulnerable and in need of help our wildlife is increasingly becoming. It’s a powerful and memorable commentary on destructive and cruel our industrialisation is, and how we as a society treat animals.
But that message would be lost if the gameplay wasn’t also equally engaging. Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is a great example of mechanics that are easy to grasp, but difficult to master. You’ll need the two shoulder buttons and that’s almost it, with the left trigger letting you run or slide, and the right trigger letting you swing. It’s all about timing and momentum, letting go of a branch at just the right second to propel yourself forwards without hitting the ground. Once you get a hang of it, swinging about becomes very relaxing, and it’s easily a game you can chill out to. Additional to that is the Liberation mode, a more arcade-style epilogue where you plod back through randomly generated locations to free captured animals.
Unfortunately performance on the Nintendo Switch, in both docked and handheld modes, is slightly lacking. Handheld is the biggest culprit, with incredibly long load times and frequent frame rate drops that greatly affect the smoothness of the experience. It’s nowhere near as bad on docked mode, with shorter load times and only the occasional frame drop, but a patch or two should help resolve that.
Those problems aren’t enough to deter from what is a striking side-scroller with a really important message at its heart. If anyone ever tells you that video games are mere distractions and can’t leave a message with players, show them Gibbon: Beyond the Trees. It’s fun to play, engaging in its presentation, and very poignant with its argument.
Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is out now on Nintendo Switch and PC. Reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.