How do you feel about switching between characters in a single video game? Is it something you enjoy, because it gives you the chance to see a digital world through multiple eyes? Or would you prefer to stay with one protagonist throughout and get to know them fully?
The reason I ask is because I recently played something which made me consider how this mechanic is used in more detail. During a week off work and in between too-many-hours of The Elder Scrolls Online, I returned to my preferred genre and completed a few adventures. Unforeseen Incidents, a title I’d first heard about at EGX Rezzed in 2018, proved to be a great dystopian story with a nice art-style; and I finally had the chance to play detective-drama Lamplight City in full after previewing it last year.
I also tried The Little Acre, a release I found out about at EGX in 2016. There I’d attended a developer session with Charles Cecil from Revolution Games – the creator of the classic Broken Sword series – where he shared his belief that the genre’s mid-1990s slump was due to it failing to modernise. However, it’s now catching up again because developers are designing titles to include logical puzzles for the modern day, which no longer involve frustrating elements such as pixel-hunting or long dialogue trees.
Whatever Cecil learnt from his observations on the genre, he clearly put it into effect during his time as Executive Producer for Pewter Games Studio. The Little Acre’s hand-drawn animations are great and occasionally you’ll come across one that immediately brings Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars to mind. In a post on the PlayStation blog, designer Kate Clavin explained how they spent ‘four years attempting to give every character, environment, movement and gesture as much life and personality as possible’.
But while the animations are of a very high quality, I can’t help feeling they were perhaps the focus of the title to the detriment of everything else. Take that character-switching mechanic I talked about at the start of this post: at times it was employed to do nothing other than show off a cute little clip. When you ask the player to switch from unemployed engineer Aidan to his young daughter Lily to do nothing more than click to walk from one side of a scene to another before switching back again, something is definitely wrong.
This game is very short for a point-and-click and I managed to get through The Little Acre in just over 90 minutes. After checking against a walkthrough afterwards, I discovered that a total of 19 character-switches took place throughout that period. I don’t enjoy the mechanic at the best of times, and that’s when it’s being used to further the narrative or gameplay; but a transfer between dad and daughter every five-minutes and ten-seconds on average must surely seem excessive to even a fan.
This frequency had a negative effect on my immersion because not enough time was given to get to know either character and feel comfortable with them both. Glimpses of their personality flashed across the screen before control was switched to the other protagonist. By the time the end credits rolled I didn’t particularly cared what happened to them – and the fact that they’d made it back to their own world and managed to save it from a lonely creature in the process was all a bit ‘meh’ as a result.
Personally, I feel that character-switching throws me out of the flow and brings me back to reality when I’m engrossed in a story. It’s difficult to think of a game where the mechanic worked for me but I can certainly name a few where it just didn’t at all. Going back to the Broken Sword series again, this is possibly one of the worse: I find George Stobbart and Nico collard to be incredibly annoying so having to play as both makes the experience even more challenging.
Unfortunately The Little Acre just doesn’t hit the mark. Along with its excessive switches and short gameplay length, the puzzles don’t give the player any reason to have to stop and think because it’s all just far too easy. It would be a great entry to the point-and-click genre for young gamers because it’s very cute and family-friendly; but older players will be left wondering about several unexplained story elements and whether they actually cared enough to find out more.
Give me one protagonist, an engrossing storyline with plenty of mystery, and puzzles that leave me scratching my head for a while. That’s what I want from an adventure game.