At the start of the game, the old man in question receives a letter, and travels across rural France. Through rests he takes at the end of each level, his story is told piecemeal through his memories. A budding romance with a beautiful woman quickly dissolves into a relationship on the rocks. They fight, make up, fight again, he stages grand (if unsuccessful and self-serving) romantic gestures, and they eventually have a child together. He never fully commits to his family, and one day, he leaves to sail around the world. He returns home years later and is shocked to find that his family have made their own vanishing act. Heartbroken, he moves to a coastal town to live alone. When he finally reaches his destination, we discover that his daughter sent the letter. His wife is dying, and she wants to see him one last time. She dies shortly after their reunion. By some miracle, his daughter lets him into her and her own kid’s life, and he’s able to finally have a family again. Since this game has no dialogue, Old Man’s Journey makes use of music, symbolism, and the man’s surroundings to bolster the plot and create strong emotional impact.
The soundtrack, and art are fantastic, and help create an optimistic, cheery mood at the start of the journey. The background, if at times messy, is filled with warm colours, and busy villages. As the player moves the landscape around people and animals peek into view, pop-up book style. Reassuring us that this will be a sweet, light-hearted game, the music and art work in concert to lull the player into a false sense of security. The rolling hills and upbeat music begin to darken, as we learn more of the old man’s story .
Old Man’s Journey allows you to interact directly with this captivating art, as you shuffle around the landscape so the man can progress to the next stage. I thought this was really unique puzzle design, but I wish they’d gone even further in terms of interacting with the environment, especially for a game that draws so heavily on natural beauty.
The only other issue I had with the gameplay were the two minigames where you need to clear the landscape for a speeding lorry, and train. I found it impossible to rearrange the background before the vehicles overtook me, and it became frustrating to have to stop and start so many times. I have no idea what these repetitive exercises in futility were meant to add, asides from undercutting the game’s overarching conceit. A speeding train and lorry have nothing to do with the entire point of slow, painful journey that reflects the process of reflection and accepting your past. But, as much as I nitpick, they couldn’t ruin the game for me.
By the time the man reveals that he abandoned his family, the landscape has changed from rolling hills peopled with colourful villages to desolate coastal ruins lashed with rain.
In the emotional climax of the game, the normal mechanics of the landscape are suspended. Usually to progress across a level, the man falls down waterfalls to reach a new area. However, the man misjudges and falls down a waterfall too large, and passes out. Progressing through an eerily quiet water level, the man reaches a grate with a large padlock, symbolising how he’s repressed painful memories and his guilt. As the padlock falls away, the man thinks back to how much he missed his family- only to return home to find their house abandoned.
Until now, he pushed his abandonment of his family to the back of his mind, only to be forced to come to terms with his past in order to meet it in the present.
While leaving so much unsaid does draw the player in, leaving so much up in the air made the conclusion feel shallow, not bittersweet as intended. If Old Man’s Journey had elaborated on his wife, and daughter’s experiences, the emotional impact of their reunion would have been heightened. His family have certainly chosen to be estranged from him, since neither visited despite knowing his address, although this isn’t highlighted. Without the obstacle of a family that feels hesitant, and conflicted about reuniting after so long, the game’s conclusion feels undeserved and their poignant reunion falls flat.
But all in all, I thought this was a really charming game that is well worth your time. The art, and music are fantastic, and the game’s plot, while told in a simple way, tugs at all the right heart-strings. I’d give this a 7/10.
Released in spring 2011 by Colibri Games, The Tiny Bang Story opens with a football meteorite has destroyed the planet (or at least its image) and shattered it into several pieces that you must recover throughout the course of the game.
I really enjoyed this game, but this was mainly for the elaborate search for the various puzzle pieces, and other items that are cunningly hidden. Especially later in game, the puzzle pieces would almost perfectly blend in with the scenery and required a fine-tooth comb to recover.
However, there were a couple inconsistencies in regards to the puzzle piece mechanics. While it would make sense that collecting each puzzle piece would be required to move onto the next level, and in some cases that hasn’t been my experience – perhaps because at that point I had already finished my first playthrough.
Additionally, some extra puzzle pieces can be collected in the final level without any actual effect on the game. Perhaps the creators thought that hiding several pieces would increase the probability of players finding them, especially when they are so well-camouflaged. But if so, why then make it possible to continue collecting the pieces after the quota has been reached?
For a puzzle game, there was an unfortunate lack of any puzzles that actually challenge the player.
Many of these were hit and miss, and could be easily solved with trial and error, such as the lightbulb puzzle, and balancing the suitcase weights.
The two minigames I especially disliked were these retro-inspired games within a game.
These were incredibly repetitive and dull. They really felt like cheap fillers amongst other puzzles and really detailed, interesting art.
Luckily I really enjoyed several of the puzzles, particularly those that required putting things together. While you could argue that these lego-style puzzles are as repetitive as the ones I harped on above, they continued to surprise where the mini-games are completely expected. The final piece in each was hidden in the hint image. While I should have known better the second time around, the game completely pulled the wool over my eyes and got me twice.
The Tiny Bang Story‘s soundtrack is bland, understated, and repetitive. Repetitive background music can be incredibly effective in making time pass and helping a player immerse themselves in the game. Just about everyAnimal Crossinggame and The Sims 2 did this really well.
See the difference? Something about The Sims 2 shopping themes helps completely immerse me in my home-renovation fantasy whereas The Tiny Bang Story soundtrack grates on me so much I usually completely mute it and listen to something else.
The art style was unique, varied, and intricate, which suits the investigative aspect of the game. Also, it made me really want to live inside a teapot.
I’ve noticed that characters didn’t always fit with their environments, especially in regards to the main character who looks creepy and out of place, especially when he was younger.
This game’s plot is largely non-existent, which is fine if, like me, you’re more interested in exploring the different levels.
Throughout each level, you watch the blonde man grow from a young child to an adult through the photos kept by who we can assume to be his family members. We finally see him for ourselves at the final level, having become powerful, and wealthy. But to what purpose?
The fact that you are on a journey around the world to track this man’s growth only becomes apparent at the end, and any argument that meeting his family members gives the game continuity falls flat when this cohesion has no actual effect upon the player’s experience of the game. I believe that the developers shoehorned this in in an attempt to give the game some purpose. But again, as this only becomes clear once the game is completed, The Tiny Bang Story is merely a hidden object game with little substance.
The only instance of intrigue (I hesitate to call it a plot point) is when the blonde man sits down with his family for tea, close to a wall where you can access previous puzzles. Sitting apart from the others is an elderly man we haven’t encountered elsewhere in the game. This mystery man is the only thing that leaves players wondering – who is he? And why is he alone?
Additionally, the meteorite hitting the planet isn’t used in the game for any other reason than to give an excuse to hide puzzle pieces. Why even bother with that prologue if you aren’t going to consider other effects that it would have on the planet and its inhabitants?
The Tiny Bang Story is an interesting enough hidden-object puzzle game that fails to draw the reader’s interest for any reason other than camouflaged puzzle pieces. Perhaps this explains why Calibri is yet to release another game.
The Tiny Bang Story is available on Steam, the Apple App Store, and Google Play.
Featured image is from The Tiny Bang Story’s Steam store page. Screenshots are my own unless otherwise stated.
Morphopolis, released in November 2013 by developer Micro Macro Games, lets you explore a colourful world as various insects. Available on several platforms, it bills itself as a “hidden object insect adventure.” I would have no qualms with this if it were actually true.
While yes, you do spend a good deal of time dolefully clicking to find poorly hidden objects to assist other insects, that’s it. The majority of the game is repetitive legwork, as you go around finding various seeds and foodstuffs, and the occasional missing leg.
The only slight wiff of a plot appears at the game’s end – a remarkably poor place to put it. The ‘Temple of the Insect God’ could have been so much more. Make-believe about little creatures and what they get up to is a fun way of drawing the audience into the story – whether it be fairies, mice, or even insects. This minute temple offered a chance for me to finally get invested in the game…which is when it ended.
What had potential was the ability to transform into various insects. Morphopolis doesn’t take full advantage of these different insects.
Some of the insects, such as the bee, and cricket, do have specific abilities that come into play (such as pollination, and somehow cricketing a dry seed pod open) these don’t open up gameplay in any significant way. You are still resigned to toddling at a snail’s pace (insects have an unfortunate tendency to scuttle in real life) across different areas, and clicking, clicking, clicking…
What may have made this more interesting would have just been expanding gameplay, point blank.
Morphopolis was apparently based off Machinarium, one of Aminata Design’s more popular games, but has neither the excitement or exploration aspect that the latter was able to cultivate.
In Machinarium, and even Samorost 3 the search is in itself an interesting puzzle, as the player tries to find out what will allow them to progress.
In Morphopolis, the search is repetitive and dull. The surroundings (more on that later) are largely non-responsive, unlike Samorost 3‘s invitation to the player to explore – even to ride a mountain goat. The livelier action of the robot in Machinarium and the little space gnome in the Samorost series draws you in, whereas too much of my time was spent just waiting for my bug to move to another screen.
The controls were janky, the walk cycles were shuddery, and the bugs handled like your Grandpa’s rickety rattletrap. They would often fail to respond when asked to move in a different direction, and the maddeningly slow pace only served to frustrate me further.
However, one positive aspect of Morphopolis is the variety of actual puzzles available once you gather enough legs, etc.
Unfortunately, these puzzles tend to vary from simplistic to bizarrely difficult. One lightbug ‘follow-the-leader’ style puzzle, and the final puzzle completely stumped me. This inconsistency indicates to me a lack of thought for the cohesion of the final product.
Many have praised Morphopolis for its intricate design, and I will give credit where credit is due – the background, at least, has been carefully, and lovingly designed.
The care taken with this artwork disappoints me in the face of the shoddy animation, and poorly thought-out gameplay.
While I managed to snag this game for under a pound, I can’t really justify the time or money I spent on this game. While I can see the appeal for those who enjoy this genre of game, I don’t see the appeal to one with so little plot or care to anything other than background detail. Even Christmas Adventure: Candy Stormhas more substance.
The game truly gets going as the PC becomes fed-up with life stuck in a cubicle with Joja Corporation, and leaves city life for a quieter time in Pelican Town, a small rural community that is threatened by Joja Corp’s cut-throat prices. Your PC starts to farm and becomes slowly integrated with the community.
The end-goal of the game is to repair Pelican Town, a place that has become decrepit essentially because nobody was there to fix it. The few businesses in town are struggling to stay afloat, and this isn’t helped by JojaMart’s ruthless business tactics that will soon squeeze out the few stores in town.
You then have a choice – either rebuild the broken community with the help of Juminos – little forest sprites that promise to help you in return for ‘bundles’ of farm goods, and foraged plants.
On the other hand…you can basically kowtow to the company that made you leave the city in the first place. This route requires a money-driven route that goes against your PC’s purpose in the first place.
This confusing route goes against everything the player character wanted to escape, but may be interesting for the completionist. (see if this can be added to point on mudded purpose)
As I noted above, expect gameplay to echo that of Harvest Moon.You can still mine, fight monsters, chop lumber, farm, forage, care for your animals, and fish. One personal quibble was the difficulty of the fishing mini-game – luckily there’s a mod for that.
The friendship system is also fairly similar, using points, and colour-coded numbers of hearts. Raising your friendship level may trigger a cut-scene, unlock new dialogue, or encourage that villager to start sending you mail. You can unlock a love interest’s cut-scene every 2 hearts. The love interests may be romanced and married by both of the game’s two available genders – did I already tell you about my beautiful wife?
Unlike in many RPGs, character customisability is robustly diverse, featuring 24 skintones. You get to choose your favourite thing, whether you prefer cats or dogs, your clothes, and most interestingly your farm map. Each map favours a different skill – farming, fishing, foraging, or combat.
It is possible to customise your character in game, as long as you jump through some Wizard-style friendship hoops.
The game’s pixel art is beautiful and detailed – a fact which often shines through with character portraits with some notable exceptions – looking at you, Sam!
In some cases the pixel art is heavily oversaturated, as in the bright yellow soil. While this does contribute to Pelican Town’s warm, welcoming atmosphere, it’s also a bit of an eyesore.
The game’s anti-corporate, environmentalist message gets muddied by some aspects of the game that stay the same after the Community Centre ending. If your PC passes out, the Joja Corporation will still collect you, and deposit their hefty check despite having been kicked out of Pelican Town. JojaCorp’s waste continues polluting the rivers. Although Shane loses his job as the Mart shuts down, we don’t find out how this affects him.
As a result, the game’s goal feels somehow cheapened and pointless. While in theory Pelican Town is free from JojaCorps, ConcernedApe doesn’t demonstrate how life has changed beyond the nominal rebuilding of the Community Centre. While this may be realistic (one town resisting a major corporation won’t end its economic power), it also feels disappointing.
For me, what set this game apart from its predecessors was Pelican Town’s lively population.
The NPCs largely have enough depth and variety to keep me interested in the game as I explore their storylines. Even amongst the non-romanceable characters, there is drama and intrigue. Truffle oil, anyone?
Stardew Valley succeeds in making real-world issues salient in a genre that has typically been geared towards children. For example, ConcernedApe makes a point to demonstrate the effect of Pam’s alcohol abuse on herself and the people around her. Penny’s sadness about her mother’s alcoholism, and worse, her mother’s denial of the fact, explains her subdued character. We rarely see her inside her home, a small trailer strewn with Pam’s mess and surrounded by her bottles. Penny becomes her mother’s caretaker, and tries to keep their home in neat condition – a Sisyphean task thanks to Pam.
Penny and Pam are also notable for being the two characters in the Town that live in relative poverty. While Penny tutors the town’s two children, it’s not clear whether she earns much money for this task. Ironically, she seems to be dependent upon her mother’s job driving the bus to Calico Desert. In spite of Penny’s hopes that Pam getting her old job back will allow her to save some money, the majority of Pam’s paycheck goes towards the local bar, where she runs a large tab.
Another aspect of the game I don’t enjoy, but is realistic, is that there is no real way to help Penny or a storyline that indicates Pam is going to start dealing with her alcoholism. The only way to decrease Penny’s dependency upon her mother is to marry her, which allows her to move out of her childhood home and leads to her new job at the museum. Perhaps other children of alcoholic parents may relate to Penny’s situation.
However, it is disappointing to see that only the love interests receive this much backstory. As noted above, these are the only NPCs that get a cut-scene every 2 hearts, as well as significant insight into their characters and backgrounds.
Leah deals with a controlling ex, Shane grapples with depression, Alex attempts to heal from an abusive father and the death of his mother, and Maru and Sebastian deal with their growing divide.
These are just some of the key points that make these characters real. ConcernedApe dissects the ideal of a peaceful countrylife, and the player gets drawn in by the concerns of these villagers.
But I think the game sorely misses this attention to detail that the majority of characters just don’t have.
Some characters become quite flat by comparison – Evelyn, Marnie, Gus, Clint, Pierre, Caroline, Willy, Jodi, Vincent…these are just some of the few that are easy to look over thanks to their shallow storylines.
Other townsfolk have absolutely no character development at all. Indeed, their very reason for being in Pelican Town is unclear asides from the function that they serve. Gil, Gunther, the Dwarf, Kronos and Marlon come to mind. While you could argue that some of these characters are absolute outsiders to townlife, with others I cannot see the reason for making them so devoid of any personality or interaction with other villagers.
A final point is Pelican Town’s whiteness – there are only two people of colour in the entire area. In a fictional world, would it have been such a stretch to include more Black, Asian, Latinx, and indigenous characters? I’ve seen some mods on Nexus mods that will make various characters Black, or Latinx, but it is disappointing that ConcernedApe didn’t go all the way with the diversity shown in character creation.
I don’t want to completely knock the characters, and will freely admit that they are all interesting, and unique. But there is no reward to getting to know these NPCs better asides from the recipes they might send you in the post.
My last major sticking point with Stardew Valley is the feeling of incompleteness. While day-in-day-out monotony is part of the countrylife genre, I can’t enjoy playing the game as I once did after exhausting the available character arcs. Even after completing them, there isn’t a significant amount of concrete change.
For example, Lewis and Marnie’s covert relationship is never resolved in any significant way. Sebastian’s antagonistic relationship with his step-father remains tense. Clint never builds up the courage to confess his feelings to Emily. Haley and Emily’s parents continue globetrotting. Linus continues to be shunned by other townsfolk. We never even see Gil get out of his damn rocking chair.
After finishing the main story and character arcs, there really isn’t much left to the game asides from grinding. This would be fine if I was a completionist, but I can’t stand the idea of spending all my time rooting around in the mines just to get a monster slayer achievement.
Stardew Valley is stuck in rural purgatory, and this lack of resolution fails to do justice to the characters’ arcs.
Personally, I would recommend Stardew Valley. It gave me several hours of fun and I definitely got really into the game. However, it does peter out by the first few years (perhaps a new DLC could help with this).
Samorost 3 (2016), created by Aminata Design, is an indie point and click puzzle game available on Mac and PC.
You start the game on this little space gnome’s home planet, and find a magical horn that lets you communicate with the people and things around you. After building a small spaceship out of parts scattered around your neighbourhood, you set off on a grand adventure across the galaxy.
In interests of full disclosure, I’m a teensy bit biased. I LOVED this game.
The artwork and level of detail is gorgeous, the soundtrack is beautiful, and I just loved following this little space gnome on an adventure to save the galaxy.
What was a bit confusing for me was that there are some puzzles where I couldn’t see how you would be able to solve it without looking at the hint guide. Perhaps this is a deliberate move from Aminata’s stricter one-hint per level policy in Machinarium?
The game is wordless, allowing it to be enjoyed by people speaking many different languages, and those with dyslexia.
And while I enjoyed this game, there is some colourism and anti-Asian racism. The villain’s skin gets darker and his eyes become longer and more slanted to show his progression into evil – ironic given that he and the other horn-players seem to be modelled after Buddhist monks.
At $20, this is relatively pricey for the amount of play time you get. It took me about 5 hours to finish the entire game, and perhaps a couple more if you want to thoroughly explore and get all the achievements. But I think it’s absolutely worth the cost, especially considering the effort put into the game and its quality.
However, I absolutely would recommend getting this game – if the price puts you off, try a free trial on Steam to see whether that changes your mind.