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Smalland: Survive the Wilds Review

Smalland: Survive the Wilds Review

Scale is a very deceptive thing. What seems like a few steps for us may be an epic journey for others, as many tales, such as A Bug’s Life, The Smurfs, and Arrietty have shown: seeing the world from such a different perspective can add new life to the simplest setting, while the smallest creature can seem like a titanic monster. In Smalland: Survive the Wilds we get to experience the little things in life, as we take on the role of a rookie Vanguard, tasked with venturing forth into the Overland to pave the wave for the smallfolk. But will this be a fascinating minuscule journey, or should it have been left wrapped under a leaf?

So, that was a lot of terminology to cram into an introduction. Let me clarify it a bit: in the world of Smalland, the smallfolk (your people) have lived in Burrows underground as the giants have ruled above. After many years of this, it seems the giants are now gone, and it is time to move back into the Overland. As anything outside of the Burrows is considered dangerous, skilful warriors and scouts, called the Vanguard, are sent ahead to set up encampments and deal with threats! You are on your way to your very first mission as a rookie Vanguard, only to have your group be attacked by a wasp! Things go awry, your team is mostly gone, and your commanding officer Herne is a fair journey away. Here is where the game proper begins.

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Antennae customisation is important, trust me

As may be extrapolated from the title, the game is all about survival. Like in many contemporaries in the genre, you’ll have to keep an eye on your health, stamina, and hunger, all while collecting resources from the environment! Thankfully, being one of the smallfolk does come with some perks, as your antennae work as a sonar of sorts, allowing you to scan the immediate area to see what is collectable, how strong the enemies are (more on that soon), and what you can get from each point of interest.

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So, getting stronger means less stamina, more SPEED for ladybugs

The crafting in the game itself is pretty standard; you collect resources with which you can create the basic tools you’ll need (axes, bandages, workspaces, and so on) to create more elaborate and complex items. Crafting items then expands into building bases, and before you know it, you’re the baron of Castle Leafmellow, glory of the Overland! Honestly speaking, the crafting isn’t that different from the genre standard, though there are a few interesting mechanics at play. You are also able to put some of the icky bug parts you’ve found to use and make yourself some lovely ant roast or garlic pudding! Keeping hunger at bay can be critical when you’re fighting for dear life.

To start off, you’ll find yourself in constant need of new resources which will organically guide the player toward certain areas of the game, such as needing leather from geckos or silk from spiders. This is, again, nothing new, but what I liked about this was how it seemed to go hand-in-hand with the “plot”. You see, once you meet up with Herne, he’ll task you with contacting other Vanguards in the area, each with their own missions to complete, often revolving around taking out an especially nasty creature. While you can simply dash on over to said quest giver, simply following the path of crafting will also direct you toward them, which is a nice touch. The game also rewards the player for reaching the other NPCs, as they can teach crafting recipes for better armour, in addition to my absolute favourite item, the catapult.

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These little owl statues give you useful information and tips!

The quests and NPCs themselves are a bit bland, having little character (with the exclusion of the mother of spiders, Lisandra), though to be fair, some of the later areas are more interesting, as the “ruins” of the giants become more prevalent; seeing stuff like an abandoned bike or a picnic table really has you wondering what happened. That and the… well… complete skeleton you find in the swamp. Subtle.

As we established, you are indeed small in Smalland. In addition to giving you a new perspective on the world around you, it also means the creatures we consider little more than pests are a real danger! Ants, spiders, beetles, bees, and wasps are only a few of the creatures you find yourself facing. Combat in the game is a bit of a mixed bag, in my opinion: while you do have a surprisingly large selection of weapons to choose from, ranging from swords and spears to maces and scythes, the combat itself can feel a bit clunky. The game also has a day-night cycle, with bugs being more dangerous at night. Some normally passive creatures, like the grasshopper, also turn into fairy-thirsty beasts! With the changing time of day also comes the chance of storms, which will make venturing out a danger in itself; better to stick to crafting or take a nap when they hit.

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The wasp that got you into this mess. Sadly, or thankfully, it went down for its troubles

The enemies have clear enough indicators for when they’re attacking and it’s not too challenging to dodge enemies, but fighting more than one enemy at a time can become very annoying very quickly. Don’t get me started on bee swarms, either. Enemies do have weaknesses to certain damage types, such as blunt or piercing, but this also means getting caught without the weapon type can be a bad time. Luckily, it’s not too difficult to outrun the conga line of tiny terror you’ve amassed, though the bugs in Smalland are sometimes very persistent, following you for quite some time!

Thankfully, not all enemies are out to get you, and some can even be of use! With the crafting of creature-specific treats, players are able to tame certain critters, such as ladybirds and grasshoppers. These faithful pets range from being extra storage space, such as the helpful aforementioned grasshoppers with the capability to either hop or even fly large distances! The resources needed for the treats are not too hard to find, so it’s possible to have one of these helpers pretty early on. However, if you happen to file your items under “ladybird” for safekeeping, beware of battle! If you happen to die, your beloved bug buddy may be driven off, never to be found again. I learned this the hard way and lost a day's worth of silk in the process. The taming aspect is fun, no doubt, but after losing Dame Ladybirdington to the cruel hands of swamp spiders, I washed my hands of the whole business.

Now, one of the main things is building up a base of operations, right? A place to return to and store all that resin you keep finding, do your crafting, repair your armour, and just make your own. Well, this is one aspect I think Smalland has done exceptionally well! As stated some paragraphs ago, your mission as a Vanguard is to pave the way for the smallfolk so that you can move to the overworld. To do this, you are tasked with building atop gigantic trees known as Great Trees! These gargantuan treehouses-to-be are visible from far and wide, often sprouting deceptively platform-esque mushrooms and vines.

If you manage to climb to the top, you can claim the tree for yourself, becoming your base of operations and unlocking your very own tree servant, who will ferry you up and down the tree with a small airship. What makes this pretty interesting is the fact that anything you build atop this grand home will be teleported to any future Great Tree you decide to make your main base in the future, completely removing the need to start from scratch every time you find a new area that needs to be explored. Additionally, all your resources kept in the base travel with it! I often get bored with survival games because I needed to build the same base over and over again, so this was an amazing addition.

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The kinda-creepy Tree-gnome (left) and your loyal lift-operator (right)

Before we continue on to the closing thoughts in the game, I’d like to share my favourite thing about the game so far: the catapult. Some background: an item you can get later in the game is a pair of wings that allow you to glide. These are very helpful, as they make getting to lower areas very easy and make the drudgery of hiking to your target a bit more fun (though my friends probably got sick of me going “wheeee” every minute or so). Now, the catapult is a blueprint you can get from finding one of the late-game NPCs in an area filled with dangerous enemies. Its primary use, I think, is to fling resources and items rapidly from A to B, acting as the ultimate same-day shipment device! However, you count as an item in this equation, so you can handily fling yourself — or unsuspecting friends — off into the sky at high speeds. Even better, doing this on top of a Great Tree, while having your wings equipped, was an absolute blast! The trip from the home base to the swamp, normally about an in-game day, was now manageable in minutes. We even built another catapult at the likely landing zone to begin the first link in our catapult-based fast-travel network!

Smalland: Survive the Wilds checks a lot of the boxes of a good survival game: it has a fun world to explore, different weapons and armours to support multiple playstyles, and fun crafting projects to keep you occupied. While the combat is a bit clunky, it's not unsalvageable and unlocking some of the fancier toys down the line can help make it a bit more dynamic. Where the game does falter a bit is in content, as there's not much to do except kill the next big monster. Looking at the planned features of the game, such as a Factions system and world events, I feel it could have benefitted from waiting for these features before coming out of Early Access. As it stands, it is a fun time to be had and does enough to stand out, if not by much in its current state. I look forward to seeing myself eat these words as the new content is added! If you like survival games and are looking for something a bit different and with a touch of fantasy (and fairies), then give Smalland a go! If not, you’re not missing out too badly. I do recommend a good catapult trip, though.

6.50/10 6½

Smalland: Survive the Wilds (Reviewed on Windows)

Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.

 Smalland: Survive the Wilds is a fun survival game with some inventive ideas, though it may suffer from being released a bit early. If you are a fan of the genre, it may be worth picking up, especially with friends!

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Martin Heath

Martin Heath

Staff Writer

Professional Bungler

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