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Creaks leans into my imagination from when I was a child. Looking for hidden doors, imagining fantastic worlds and creatures both nightmarish and benign. It reminds me of a mixture of Coraline and Dark Crystal mixed into one. You play the role of a young man who is seemingly a student studying whose peace is disturbed by shaking, lights going out and the wallpaper in their dilapidated bedsit falling down revealing a small sealed door hidden behind. The door leads to a vast underground cavern with a giant residential structure that feels like it was designed by M.C Escher.
The game itself is a puzzle title as you explore this large structure meeting the remnants of the occupants and the cause disturbing your dwelling above. It's essentially a series of puzzle rooms split by elevators and hallways. I've seen it described as a platformer equally and it really isn't, the jumps are essentially automated as part of solving the puzzle design. The puzzles themselves are simple but in a way that make you think without getting to frustrated which I appreciated. They are mostly logic puzzles with robot dogs, shadow creatures, switches, lights and levers. I found I could figure most of them out in a reasonable time frame though a few really did stump me despite their simplicity. The issue I had though was they just get a bit old as though there is occasionally a new enemy variety to mix things up nothing really evolves for the playtime and in some ways this game feels really long though it all comes together pretty nicely in the finale.
Creaks biggest strength for me is it's art style. It has a gorgeous hand drawn 2D style that almost feels like a children's book in some ways. It comes across as a little whimsical, a little Kafkaesque, I really liked it. There is a large amount of detail in the backgrounds as you explore, tiles, statues, plants and the fantastic interactive paintings you can find on the walls all make Creaks a visually charming experience. It also has a stellar soundtrack by Hidden Orchestra.
This isn't the usual game I buy. I'm not a big puzzle game fan but the positive critic reviews and art piqued my curiosity similar to the previous game of this studio I played, Machinarium. I'm not here for the puzzle gameplay, not really. I'm here for the atmosphere and in that, the developer Amanita Design nailed it.
Coffee Talk is one of those games you really need to be aware of what you are getting going in. I've seen a few reviews here mention it's boring or how little gameplay it has. So to those unaware this is a short visual novel with limited played player input that's very narrative heavy.
Oh as a game it's uninteresting, that I agree with. You make drinks during conversations that are often vague you have to figure out. Not going to lie, used a guide, didn't care. If you come into this for gameplay mechanics or puzzles just step away now. Where Coffee Talk shines is the interesting characters and world. Their designs, excellent pixel art and animations. Their struggles, successes or failures of their everyday lives you learn about over a period of nights. I got pretty drawn into it and it helps this game is incredibly relaxing.
It's one of those sort of titles that makes me think it could only really be done as a video game personally. I mean sure a film version of this and the characters could be done easily enough but it wouldn't be the same. It's a game about observing the characters from the outside on the other side of the bar. Yes your character talks, yes they are a key component to both how it works and the function of a Coffee shop but the observations of the customers coming in and their lives is the focus.
It's super chill, visually nice and just generally has a pretty nice vibe to it. It made me want to try more hot drinks even though I don't like Tea or Coffee. I mean I like the idea of them. I like the smell, the aroma of them but the actual drinks? nope. Still this has made me want to try and make homemade cinnamon milk again and some other types of hot chocolate.
Does it really rain that much in Seattle?
I haven't played this game since approx. 2003 on the PlayStation 2. My friend Chordata3 wrote a review for this 6 weeks ago about his first time playing the game and it has been on my mind ever since. I haven't played Ico in 20 years yet this game has had a lasting impact on me. This will be more a short retrospective based on my memories than a full review.
Lot's of aspects of Ico are impressive from it's art design to it's atmosphere and wonderful music. What I remember Ico for though is how almost minimalist in it's design philosophy it was to such an extent that it results in a deeper impression in many ways. This game's big impact on me was feelings that still swell up when I think about it now. The relationship of Ico and Yorda the two main characters and how that and their personalities are conveyed through such simple means was truly wonderful and has influenced many games since in game design.
Take the save point, it's usually a functional item or a menu option and nothing more. In Ico it's a two seat couch that Ico and Yorda sit on, it's one of the few locations where music plays and if left long enough the characters will fall asleep together. It performs as so much more than simply a save point but as a vessel for the characters and the atmosphere of the game. The rest of the game uses the silence to amplify the atmosphere of the huge castle and loneliness of our characters trying to escape so these save moments really stands out. When not silent the ambient sounds include birds who Yorda will watch and then chase with an almost childish glee if left to her own devices. When moving around Ico will grab her hand as they run from enemies or move through the castle creating character impressions and a relationship between them with no dialog presented. At the time this was extremely far ahead of what almost every other game I was playing was doing. It made me care for these characters simply through these ideas and it clearly impacted others too. Take this Little Big Planet level It plays an instrumental version of Ico's final theme and to make it play, you have to hold onto Yorda's hand.
Whilst Ico's influence can be seen in many games such as Journey, Rime, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, among many others I still feel in this era of games feeling in some cases too bloated with dialog, icons, features and collectables that at over 20 years old there is still a lot to learn from Ico about subtlety and feeling. An article in Gamerant highlights an interview with the then Team Ico that they intentionally hired staff from outside the game industry at the time and had a "subtracting design" philosophy where any element that interfered with the game's story or theme were simply removed. Whilst not every game should be minimalist, having more isn't always better and Ico at least in character and atmosphere is a perfect example to me of quality over quantity.
A beautiful game that was ahead of it's time. I hope more people go back to experience it with an open mind.