The First Tree was released September 14, 2017, published by indie game developer David Wehle. It’s considered a third-person exploration game where two stories play out simultaneously. Players control a mother fox in search of her missing cubs. In the meantime, a man narrates to his partner the story of his tumultuous relationship with his now late father. This unique and poignant premise is what drew me in, and I stayed for the visual masterpiece that it was.
To set the scene, I chose to play this on my Switch.
Let’s talk gameplay first. The mechanics are simple: you can walk, run, dig, and jump as momma fox. It has light platforming and employs simple puzzle solving in each area. As you traverse multiple landscapes, you come across two things: collectable shining orbs and man-made objects. The game does not tell you what these shining orbs do at first, and I loved the mystery behind it. In fact, it almost drove me to be more attentive and want to collect them all. The contrast of the man-made objects in the wilderness are hard to miss, and they often trigger another piece of the man’s story. I found that it didn’t matter too much the order of which you stumble upon these objects, as each area or level contains the progression of the narration. Overall, the controls are simple, allowing me to enjoy the graphics and story. I occasionally struggled with a clumsy jump and timing moves to solve a puzzle. While it certainly didn’t have the smoothest controls like a triple-A title, it didn’t negatively impact my experience.
The two stories gripped me the entire play through. As a mother, my heart was wrenching the entire time I searched for the baby foxes. I don’t want to spoil too much about what she finds, but she ultimately ends at the First Tree. Simultaneously, a man shares his dream with his partner–a dream about a mother fox searching for her missing cubs. Little by little, he shares the ups and downs of his life in Alaska with his father. The relationship was strained at best, and this man struggled with the concept of death now that his father passed. At the end of the game, you find out what those shining orbs are used for–and it’s done so in the most beautiful way. Want to know what for? Go play the game!
Next to the story, the visuals and music are where I feel The First Tree excels. The game touts a glorious color palate and spine-tingling melodies that pair well with the heavy storylines.
Overall, The First Tree is a short (about two hours), enjoyable, bite-sized game with a powerful theme that explores life, death, and family. It’s simple but impactful. Of course, I need to point out that this was a one-man team, which to me, is incredibly impressive. I now follow David Wehle on Twitter, and he is very engaging with his fans. I find this to be an absolute plus.
If you like titles such as Firewatch, Gone Home, and Shelter, you’ll probably enjoy The First Tree. This is no fast-paced first-person shooter, nor does it have any multi-layered puzzles to figure out, but that’s okay! This game is what I consider pure enjoyment. It reviewed “Mostly Positive” on Steam, and I personally recommend it! There’s little excuse not to buy it. It’s available on virtually every platform: PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Steam, Itch.io, GOG.com, Apple Store, Google Play, and Epic Games. It also has a fair sticker price of $9.99, and it frequently goes on sale.
Have you played The First Tree? If so, what did you think about it? If you haven’t played this game, do you feel compelled to give it a whirl? Let us know on Discord!