Perhaps because, in recent years, there’s been a serious lack of real world tables being produced, pinball has been undergoing a renaissance in the world of video games. From recreations of real world tables in Pinball Arcade and Zaccaria Pinball, to more fantastical creations – many licensed – in the Pinball FX series (which also now has recreations of real world tables too, albeit embellished with Zen Studios’ typical flair for adding elements more common to more their digital-only pinball tables). And those are only the biggest, most popular examples I can think of – there are a huge number of other pinball games available at present.
There’s an awful lot of games that merge pinball-esque mechanics with other genres too. From the more obvious pinball stylings of games such as Rollers of the Realm or Momonga Pinball Adventures that apply RPG-style progression and cutesy, mascot-based action to pinball respectively, to hybrids such as Creature in the Well (which is a sort-of top-down Metroidvania/Zelda-esque affair with pinball mechanics) and Yoku’s Island Express (a lovely mashup of pinball and 2D platforming with Metroidvania-esque progression), it seems that pinball is becoming a hugely popular basis for the gameplay of many titles right now.
Family Tree is no different in terms of taking inspiration from pinball and applying it to a perhaps unexpected game genre. There’s a cute, appealing style to the surreal proceedings with you – as a seemingly patriarchal piece of fruit – trying to rescue your family, who have all been kidnapped by what looks like a disembodied, cartoony skull (Evil Skull Pedro, as he’s named). It’s a puzzle game at heart, but one in which you launch your fruity little character like a pinball and bounce around vertically designed environments, collecting fruit offspring and coins on your way to reaching your partner, triggering the end of the stage. With platform as well as the aforementioned pinball elements, it does make a unique concoction.
Like all the best puzzle games, things start off with very simple levels that you’ll be hurling yourself around – though you do launch yourself pinball-style upwards through the level, you do have a degree of control over your movement with the L and R buttons, which allow you to apply a decent degree of aftertouch. As you collect fruit, it creates a colourful trail behind your character; knock into an enemy without bouncing on it from above (in true platform game style!) and you’ll lose a little fruit. A timer ticks down on each level too, counting down to the appearance of Pedro. The faster you complete the level, the more points you’ll score too.
Though the aim of each level is to collect your kidnapped fruit children (yep, I did just type that – sorry, just had to make sure) and reach your, er, fruit spouse, you can gain a Perfect rating by collecting the maximum amount of fruit kids and all four coins on the stage.
You’ll enter more horizontally inclined levels in an effort to escape from the skull at the end of each set of levels (which are separated into seasons). These add some variety to the formula, but the fast pace of these stages is a little jarring and the level design can feel overly punishing.
Later levels in the main stages can get a little frustrating but – pro tip – mastering the aftertouch is key here, which is a little difficult to get your head around at first, given how you launch yourself like a pinball and expect the laws of physics to take care of the rest.
There are multiplayer modes included for up to four players which look like a lot of fun too; full disclosure: I have yet to give these a try.
Special mention must go to the excellent soundtrack, which is as bright and bouncy as the visuals – with a fully voiced rap track on the menu screen too, which is bizarre to say the least, but it definitely did make me smile.
That’s the key thing with Family Tree, I think – it’s a game that can make you smile. It’s a happy, silly, colourful, straightforward game that – some boss races aside – plays fair and isn’t too taxing. It’s pitched at a relatively low level, challenge wise, if you just want to get through the levels – but getting higher scores, each coin and that often elusive Perfect rating on each stage will take you significantly longer and present a much stiffer challenge.
The jovial and charming atmosphere, addictive gameplay and bright visuals really appealed to me and I’ve had an absolute blast working my way through the levels and retrieving my little fruity family. A great little diversion that’s perfect for the Switch.
I was kindly provided with a review code for Family Tree.
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