Annihilation is the latest game from indie developer TreeFall Studios. Eli Brewer is the studio’s head, and while his earliest games predate his debut on the Wii U, the TreeFall banner earned its reputation on Nintendo’s aging console. The Letter, which received an unanimously negative reception upon its launch, was TreeFall’s first title for the Wii U, and six subsequent games have followed it.
However, while there is an undeniable upward curve in the overall quality of their output, none of TreeFall’s titles have enjoyed a level of professional polish; rather, their games feel less like commercial products and more like preliminary tests from a team that’s still learning how to master this craft.
So, does Annihilation exceed the quality of its predecessors, or does it fall in the same tier?
ANNIHILATION (WII U) GAME REVIEW
TreeFall Studios, to their credit, experiments in a variety of genres, not beholding themselves to any specific category. Annihilation calls back to the more simplistic age of top-down shooters like Galaga and Space Invaders.
Annihilation’s controls are simple, and a tutorial is handled through the game’s title screen. Your left stick moves your character left or right, your ZR button shoots one of your two guns, and pressing the Y or X button allows you to alternate between your firearms. Moreover, while the game’s paused, you can use the in-game currency (which is obtained organically as you kill the baddies) to buy traps or an additional pistol.
As you’d expect, the gameplay is easy to understand. Your avatar is situated on the bottom of the screen while your enemies descend from the top. You do have finite ammo for your rifles, though ammo pertaining to the less useful gun spawns regularly. Additionally, three color-coded power-ups – which can enhance your health, speed or power – periodically drop from the center. You’re awarded with a game over if you run out of health or if too many enemies pass you buy.
Players are presented with three stages to play. While the differences between the aesthetics are largely inconsequential, one environmental factor, water, slows down your foes as they cross it. Your score increases as you clear the numbered waves of foes, with the game keeping track of your top high score for each stage. Disappointingly, Annihilation lacks an online leaderboard, reducing its replayability. On the plus side, however, a two-player co-op mode is available.
Regarding the enemies, none of them are particularly imaginative. Your go-to gray enemy, and its slightly more durable teal counterpart, fall downward in a straight line. Green enemies, which frustratingly take 12 hits to kill, and white enemies that can momentarily become invulnerable to your shots follow this same pattern. Worm-like foes that require being hit five times move horizontally, while violet enemies spawn in the water to shoot you. While the enemies’ spawning points are randomized every time you play, the enemies’ movement patterns will regardless render every game with a similar feeling.
In terms of its graphics, TreeFall’s sprite work is lackluster. While you’re discernibly playing as a blonde person, you can never tell what the enemies are supposed to be. I’m assuming the green blobs are some kind of living gas, for example, and the gray foes look like crabs to me, even if I think they’re supposed to be zombies. Killed foes explode, leaving behind a patch of liquid that jarringly fades away over the course of a few seconds. Moreover, there’s a dearth of animations (the main character only has one sprite), and the shading is flat, making everything look one-dimensional.
This actually leads into the biggest problem with Annihilation, which is its lack of visual clarity. Your character’s bright hair helps him (her?) stand out from the three backgrounds, but some of the enemies’ colors pallets are too hard to distinguish from the environments. Even when they’re not, such as the yellow-colored foes, the dullness and lack of outlines make it easy to lose track of them. The HUD display inadvertently helps hide your left- and right-most adversaries, too. This presentation issue could be seen in some of TreeFall’s earlier games, such as Journey of a Special Average Balloon, but it’s compounded here.
It’s no secret that Nintendo has moved on from the Wii U, but thankfully other developers and publishers are still supporting the platform. TreeFall Studios is among them, and while it is encouraging to see them continue to develop software and pursue their passion, it’s yet to yield a game with a professional veneer. Annihilation, for its cheap price, could provide short bursts of passable arcade action if better options are somehow unavailable to you, but I’d recommend buying one of the more striking games on the market.