In Forest Cathedral you play a character very loosely based on Rachel Carson, a biologist and writer widely considered as a pioneer in the environmental movement. Rachel applies for a research job in a project run by the sinister German-sounding Dr. Muller on Science Island. While studying mosquitoes, she uncovers the dangers of a certain widely-used insecticide…
As Rachel there is a bit of walking around but the story is often advanced by accessing various terminals to complete 2D platform sections with a character that Rachel calls the "Little Man.” These platform sections are distinctly 8-bit era graphically, and intentionally tricky to control. For instance, Little Man won't run and jump at the same time in some places, you have to jump then move a fraction of a second later, and the collision detection is decidedly dodgy too–deliberately I suspect (and hope), to give Little Man a distinctly retro feel.
It soon becomes apparent that these 'Little Man' sections are by far the most difficult parts of the game, and while they're not "Super Meat Boy-hard", they become progressively more and more difficult, with narrow pipes and passageways lined with deadly spikes and less frequent checkpoints. Simply put, they're totally disparate when compared with the rest of the game, which is a gentle walking/exploration/lightweight puzzle game. Oddly, I also found that I had much better control over Little Man using the D-pad than the left stick, when he stubbornly wouldn't change direction in mid air at vital moments when using analogue control. It all adds up to a sub-game that could cause players to rage quit–it's not something I do anymore at my advanced age but I was tempted to turn the game off for the night, hugely disappointed with yet another game that I thought was just stupidly hard and frustrating. Fortunately, I checked the options and found that the devs thought to put an option in to remove the spikes from the game, which is probably the only reason I finished the it and you have this review to read. With the spikes turned off it only took me 3-4 hours to complete the game, but at least I retained my sanity.
The game carries an environmental message about how DDT entering the food chain was dangerous, and how we still need to be careful with insecticides and genetically modified anythings. DDT was banned in the US and the UK back in the 1970s or '80s, but is still used in some parts of the world–you can guess where.
Forest Cathedral is an odd mixture of pixel art, 8-bit platforming and below average Gen 8 graphics for the walking bits, and I'd love to be able to tell you that Brian Wilson has created a genre-crossing graphical mashup of masterful proportions, but it'd be more accurate to describe it as a confused, unsatisfying mess, but on the good side it has a good heart and an important environmental message.
Thanks to Whitethorn Games for the review code.