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This review contains spoilers
kinda wild that a game about how institutional mismanagement sabotages the work of the boots-on-the-ground, outward facing workers kinda also plays like that was the case in the game itself!
the people who were involved in the most strictly artistic elements of the game = innocent. the music was phenomenal, the painted landscapes stunning, the character designs expressive and unique, and the writing largely pretty good. this game has some great pieces and a lot of heart
too bad about the rest of it though.
I waited several months after the game's release to buy it, due to how many comments I saw about its volume of bugs. the game does not play like they were cleaned up
and this specifically a shame because a game like this hinges so well on its cultivation of ambience, of getting the player into a certain mindset. a mindset that, in practice, gets punctured every time a dialogue bubble fails to launch, or launches in the wrong spot, or a character appears in a wrong spot separate from their dialogue bubble, or—
and even beyond the strict bugs, the gameplay is deeply misaligned with its story, design, and a logical play style. the exploration is hindered by inconsistently appearing invisible walls and totally unexplained, almost completely barren locales. the platforming is rendered largely moot by porcupine's very flat, almost suburban layout and long stretches of empty nothing. the choosing between two people to hang out with is pulled, like almost everything, from the game's clear inspiration in the night in the woods, but those choices don't connect with narrative at all. they seem to exist not because they meaningfully serve the game, but because night in the woods had it (see also, the aforementioned misapplied platforming and 'exploration')
the minigame mechanics are, at least on the switch, very poorly implemented. the guitar hero minigame doesn't register inputs in-game correctly (and this is not a hardware problem—the game visually imply a registered input without actually registering it). very frustrating that patients' lives depend on these minigames. please use the accessibility options if you can.
side characters appear and vanish not in a way the feels consistent with the story, but like they got forgotten in a rush to meet a deadline. many relationships do feel earned, but almost just as many don't. the game plays like there was a lot more intended, but it missing. you can see the missing shapes in all the empty space
sigh. it's a bummer, because when it's good, it's really charming, and it tries to tell a story that I think is very specific and meaningful. but most of it gets loss in the mess of it all
I played mutazione, an earlier game of this developer's, a couple years back, and enjoyed it. aspects of the gameplay somewhat often dragged that experience down, but unmistakeable in the game was an abundance of creativity and heart. so when I saw that Die Gute Fabrik had released another bright, intriguing game with an intriguing cast of characters, I decided to lead gut first and check it out, with minimal pre-research
and I am so delighted I did! I loved this experience
to start, the art design is exceptional. lush. unrelentingly creative. the world and its characters are so gorgeously realized. and not just in the classic ways, like with its stunning color palettes, but also in how it interprets every locale, building, character.
the character designs in particular are my favorite, in part because though they can seem abstract in style, they do a better and more meaningful job capturing the beauty and breadth of human visual diversity than every other game, movie, tv show, comic that stacks itself with template mannequin models. zo's nose, kittick's body, stew's eyes, amrita's face—I see these wonderful features in the world around me, but rarely reflected in art.
and this embrace of variety and diversity reflects in the game's themes and narrative. it's a story about community, and finding healing and growth and hope in connection. the crew as the main character is quite fun, and tending to their relationships via the choices you make at each island really drives home the importance of acting as a community
and mechanically, I commend how the game makes it so accessible to explore and tinker with save states and make new choices. the format encourages exploration in a way far improved from mutazione, and every chance taken to learn about the world of saltsea and its players felt so rewarding
I have some potential notes on some final act storytelling choices that I'm still chewing on. nothing capsizing. but I do find myself wondering if they were delivered as well as they needed to be, or if that gnawing is just part of the experience.
all in all, an absolute superb end-of-year surprise from what has now become one of my favorite developers. a sequel isn't necessary for the completeness of the experience, but boy howdy would I not be mad at one. I'll remain dreamsailing until then
I was able to rent the original once back when it came out, enjoyed the few days I had with it. fast forward two decades, was excited to properly enjoy it! unfortunately, time (and some of the remade elements) have not been kind
stardew valley, which I haven't played in years, kinda ruins this experience for me. it is so densely brimming with so much of all kinds of content, and is accessible and engaging and very well fine-tuned. this remake, however, is very barren, in all kinds of ways
I can understand that the farming isn't the core element of the game—it's the chapter-based family storytelling, which can and does set it apart from its peers. but if that's true, then why is the storytelling so anemic?
why am I lucky to get two lines of different dialogue for any given character on a given day, let alone at all within a season? why do I barely have any context for this town's community, or these characters' relationships with one another? why must I stand around for 30 in-game minutes waiting for a character to uncross their arms for a brief millisecond window so I can give them a gift to maybe unlock more dialogue from them?????????
not only is it barren and unintuitive, it's also janky a lot and depends on using online guides to understand things. hell, even the game's instructions on things are wrong in some cases!
and as a minor note, I don't love the aesthetic redesign. I find many of the changes to be commercial pretty, which is my way of saying flat and lacking in character. the autumnal "muddiness" of the original game created a kind of warm, rustic aesthetic that I loved at the time, but this game feels very generically poppy and bright. and I understand some of the character redesigns (thumbs up on gordy), but in aggregate they clearly soften the original's more interesting and unique edges in favor of a generic, boring prettiness. it's unfortunate and common
very disappointed :( I still very much believe I could be in the market for a game like this, if it were more rich and bold and fleshed out and interesting. but this one isn't, and I'm gonna have to leave it behind, sadly