Wicked stepmothers have been a part of fairy tales for as long as anybody can remember, but none were as wicked as Hansel and Gretel's. Convincing her husband to abandon their young children in the woods was a dastardly deed, and now you can gill the shoes of young Gretel and try to set things right! Gretel & Hansel is a free browser-based point and click adventure that embraces charming visuals and simple gameplay, and even throws in a few twists for gamers with a bit of a mean streak.
Armed with only a slingshot you'll play as Gretel, the sharp-witted sister who overheard her wicked stepmother's plan to abandon Hansel and Gretel in the woods. Using some traditional point and click puzzle solving, you'll gather 10 rocks that you can use as a trail to find your way back home. It's not the breadcrumbs we're all used to hearing about, but that's a small oversight in a game that's fairly faithful to the source material.
The presentation feels like a perfect mix between a water color painting and an old world puppet show. Characters move their limbs and head like wooden pull-string puppets, bobbling and stumbling their way through life. The art style brings a fresh perspective to the world of hand-drawn game art. In this case, we're talking hand-painted. Both characters and environments look stunning and starkly original thanks to the use of water colors. The music does a terrific job of complimenting both, offering up a perfect fairy tale vibe.
Despite the games exquisite beauty there's a surprising amount of the grotesque included in Gretel & Hansel. The game includes ten unlockable death, each more gory than the last. We're talking spiders draining you, carts running over you, over the top blood and guts here. Those with a sick sense of humor will definitely be tickled pink by what's included, but for everyone else it's a bit of a shocking turn off. The gore is such a stark contrast to the rest of the presentation that our first experience with it was quite unsettling. While certainly tame when compared to games where violence and gore are the norm, that sharp contrast from the regular flow of the game really helped to make these moments all the more squeamish.
While we enjoyed the game for the most part, the occasional moments of gore weren't the only things that dampened the experience. Gretel & Hansel seemed to be at a loss for knowing when to hold your hand. During some obvious moments the game would point big arrows on the screen to indicate your next move. At other more elusive parts, you might find yourself scratching your head wondering what to do next. One puzzle requires you to walk behind a well to make a series of vines grow over the opening. Nothing in the game suggests that this should be your next move, and there's no real reason to walk behind the well in the first place. If ever there was a place for an arrow, this would have been it.
Gretel & Hansel isn't a very long experience, either. Veteran point and click puzzle solvers will likely get through it in about half an hour. For a browser-based adventure that's actually a pretty decent length, but those of you accustomed to download-only adventures are bound to found this to be a little short. The story whets you're appetite and leaves you wanting more, which we can only assume is what the developer intended. You see, Gretel & Hansel doesn't tell the whole story of Hansel & Gretel, but only 1/3 of it. Developer makopudding is hard at work on the remaining two instalments, with the full intention of wrapping up the story in a trilogy.
There's no question that a mean sense of humor puts a dark taint on this otherwise charming story, but for a quick 30 minute exercise in puzzling, Gretel & Hansel takes you on a well-paced ride with jaw-dropping hand painted visuals. As a free browser-based game, it's hard to not recommend a once through for anyone with a strong stomach.