Gibbon: Beyond the Trees does something quite special. What looked like a fun, silly little game about swinging a primate through the trees forges forward into something far wilder and more alarming.
Set in the gibbon's natural habitat of Southeast Asia, developer Broken Rules worked with local residents to ensure the subject matter is handled accurately and sensitively, with a strong focus on the impacts of deforestation and the collapse of ecosystems. This poor ape got more than it signed up for.
It's only an hour or so long, but Gibbon: Beyond the Trees will stick with you for a long time after that.
Combining World and Gameplay
Gibbon: Beyond the Trees is a relatively simple game to get to grips with. You hold a button down to swing, and let go to fling yourself across a gap in the branches or a chasm. You can hold another button to run along the ground, and later on, you'll learn a couple extra bits to help you across the rainforests as they get harder to navigate.
Despite the simplistic control scheme, though, it becomes a tougher and tougher challenge to successfully navigate the canopies. You have a companion who swings with you, sometimes helping you along and giving you good ideas for routes, but it's extremely easy to lose momentum and potentially miss the jump into a chasm or other obstacle.
In something of a journey through time, your gibbon discovers humanity gradually infiltrating the rainforest. First with small settlements, not paying you too much heed. Then, you start to struggle with swinging as the trees become increasingly scarce. Before long, you're swinging on bulldozers and stacks of timber more than on the trees you grew accustomed to, and find yourself having to escape the danger of a forest fire and evade hunters targeting your gibbon family.
Gibbon does a fantastic job of linking the game's mechanics to the life your gibbon is leading - it becomes more difficult the more humans impact the ecosystem, and you become far less relaxed than you might've thought when swinging through forests.
Instead of vines, you're swinging off of chains dangling from cranes. Instead of long branches linking the canopies, you're having to use power lines. Constantly, the world is becoming more hostile to the gibbon.
Of course, we all know the environment is being destroyed, both on a macro and micro scale, but it's something else to play through the timeline of a single species and its descent into potential extinction.
The Game Stuff Is Good Too
I played Gibbon: Beyond the Trees on a Switch OLED, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. A couple of frame-rate stutters aside, the art and animation flow absolutely perfectly, giving a true sense of speed and momentum when you get swinging. It's simple to control, but far harder to actually get good at.
Sound-wise, Gibbon is a real treat, too. The serenity of the rainforest with its constant white noise from all the species that live there drives the game's point home further, and your gibbon's call when it gets a helping hand from a companion or makes a significant leap is an absolute delight.
There's not a huge amount else to say about Gibbon: Beyond the Trees. It's a lovely yet intense look into a symptom of the larger problem of deforestation, and more widely, human impacts on the planet, and I'd highly recommend giving it a try.