Strangeland: mind, monsters and metaphors

Last year wasn’t a great one for me personally in terms of gaming. My wishlist was bursting at the seams with upcoming releases I’m looking forward to playing, but many were delayed due to COVID-19 and challenges faced with remote working.

Things are beginning to look up though. Not only are lockdown restrictions now easing in the UK, postponements in the gaming world are coming to an end too and I’ve been able to get my hands on some great games recently. The Dark Side of the Moon was a fun full-motion video (FMV) title with a science-fiction storyline and I can’t wait for the sequel; and Hitchhiker took me on a mysterious journey into the unknown which stayed with me for long after the credits rolled.

I jumped at the chance of a review key for Strangeland after being kindly contacted by Emily Morganti as I’ve enjoyed everything that Wadjet Eye Games has had a hand in creating or publishing. Adventure fans are likely to remember Wormwood Studios’ 2012 release Primordia, a well-received point-and-click set in a post-apocalyptic world where a robot wants to find out what happened to the humans. Now after ten years of work, we’re finally able to play its spiritual successor this month.

The story begins when you wake up on a rickety wooden bridge suspended in the sky with no memory of who you are or how you got there. In the distance is Strangeland, a nightmarish carnival filled with traps and riddles, where you witness a golden-haired woman fall down a bottomless well before you have a chance to save her. Somehow you know that until you destroy the Dark Thing lurking at the top of a towering rollercoaster, it will keep happening over and over again.

I don’t want to give too much away but it should be fairly obvious from this summary that it isn’t a game for children. As advised on its Steam page: “Strangeland deals with mature themes involving grief, mental illness, self-harm and self-destructiveness. It has some horrific but surreal imagery. Some players may find such content triggering.” While I wouldn’t necessarily say the title is scary, it certainly gives off a heavy atmosphere and there are some rather creepy moments.

For example: at one point you’ll find yourself trying to come up with a way to charm the eye out of a ten-legged teratoma, and at another you’ll have to discover the real name of a mermaid made by men. And lets not forget the ride to the edge of oblivion on the back of a giant cicada. Metaphors are liberally scattered through both the environments and conversations, and commentary is provided in an annotation mode for those interested hearing more about the references woven throughout the game.

Stramgeland, video game

Halfway through my playthrough, my other-half asked me whether I was enjoying Strangeland so far and I told him that I was because it reminded me of Sanitarium. It was therefore a nice surprise to come across an old post on the Steam news hub the following week, in which a member of Wormwood Studios discussed the game’s influences. They wrote: “We found inspiration in games like Sanitarium and Weird Dreams, shows and movies like The Prisoner and Eraserhead, religious and mythological works.”

A point-and-click is nothing without puzzles so let’s move on to those now. Like Primordia, those within Strangeland can be solved in several different ways and non-player characters (NPCs) remark on the actions you’ve decided to take. For example, one player might win a carnival game with good mouse skills and sharpshooting, while another might notice the electrical panel next to the machine and choose to make some changes to its engineering instead.

The carnival almost wraps back around onto itself as you progress and you’ll be placed in situations similar to those you’ve already experienced. For instance, early on you’ll have to figure a way around a vicious dog; then later, you’ll come across the beast again – but this time it has your face and you’ll need to tweak your previous solution. It’s an excellent way of reminding the player that unless the protagonist can break out of the cycle, they’re doomed to keep repeating the same fate.

There’s no fear of getting stuck though. You can use the payphone found at the entrance of the carnival to make a call to the operator – who sounds strangely like the protagonist – for a nudge in the right direction at any time up until the final section of the game. I made use of this feature twice and was pleased both times because, rather than being cryptic clues, the hints given were direct yet succinct. This meant I could move on without becoming frustrated or the storyline being spoiled.

It’s not only the puzzle structure which is reminiscent of Primordia; it’s the visual style too. The setting for both titles may be very different but the graphics show off the same retro-styled pixelated art in a muted palette. It’s easy to tell that Strangeland has been made by the same creators and you can see the influence of Wadjet Eye Games’ releases too. As mentioned above, there are a few creepy images featured during cutscenes but they aren’t overly gory and are more of a surreal nature.

This doesn’t mean that Strangeland is going to be a game for all adventure fans however, because I can see its subject matter deterring some players. I’d recommend being aware of the topics touched upon before starting and checking out the ‘mature content description’ on the Steam page. At no point are these handled in a gratuitous manner though, and many discoveries made by the protagonist are shared in metaphors so they’re somewhat open to individual interpretation.

What this title does brilliantly is present a cast of strange characters who speak in riddles. I usually don’t enjoy such conversations because I’m impatient and like straight answers; but there were enough clues given in each discussion to prevent frustration, yet enough obscurity to make every encounter feel mysterious and foreboding. At every moment during my five hours with Strangeland, I found myself wanting to progress to find out what had happened to the protagonist, yet fearful (in a good way) of where his journey would take him.

In their Steam news hub post, the developer wrote: “Strangeland began as a way for me to process the sadness I felt about [a personal situation]. What it means to watch the slow-motion destruction of someone you love, thinking you can save her, but not being able to.” That last line sums up the entire feeling of this release for me. You can feel that the teams’ personal stories have seeped into the storyline and it’s been a while since I experienced so much atmosphere within a point-and-click.

Strangeland is a game of mind, monsters and metaphors. It won’t be to everybody’s taste, but I can’t wait to see what Wormwood Studios come up with next.

Mutropolis: Mars logic

Last year’s Steam Game Festival events gave me a chance to play plenty of demos in the comfort of my own home. One of these was for an upcoming point-and-click called Mutropolis, the first project by two-person team Pirita Studio.

The reason it caught my eye is because it was being published by Application Systems Heidelberg. I first came across the company at the Rezzed expo in April 2018 where they were promoting enjoyable detective adventure Lamplight City. Since then I’ve been able to play and been hit-in-the-feels by The Longing, as well as try the demos for Western click-‘em-up Rosewater and the intriguing Ghost on the Shore. So I wasn’t going to say no when Emily Morganti kindly got in touch with the offer of a review key.

Mutropolis’ story takes place in the year 5000 and centres on geeky archaeologist Henry Dijon. His team leave their home on Mars to travel to Earth so they can learn about their distant ancestors, and their excavation uncovers graffiti, mummified remains and enigmatic relics. When they stumble upon the path to the long-lost city of Mutropolis, Professor Totel is kidnapped; so it’s up to Henry and the team to figure out who has taken him and why, as well as deal with an evil force lying in wait for thousands of years.

Adventure games are mainly characterised by their narratives and puzzles so let’s start by covering the former. Combined with hand-drawn visuals that reminded me of Broken Age and some sweet voice-acting, it came across like a family-friendly film where there were very few moments of danger and tension. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it felt somewhat at odds with a storyline about a kidnapping and a dark evil. I was also a little confused about the science-fiction premise when ancient Egyptian gods were thrown into the mix.

During the conversations had and observations made by Henry throughout the gameplay, you discover that a cataclysmic event years ago forced humans to leave for Mars. What this was is never explained however and I would have loved a bit more backstory to build upon the world further. The same goes for the characters, all of whom are likeable although we don’t get to know them fully. It feels as though Mutropolis’ narrative is a good start but the surface has barely been scratched.

Adventure fans will notice plenty of references to the classics. At one point it’s necessary to use Gabriel Knight’s fingerprint kit to solve a puzzle; you’ll see someone fixing a pipe with what looks like a monkey wrench; and Manny Calavera’s skull can be seen sitting on a shelf in a crypt. There were also sequences which reminded me of scenes in Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars and The Secret of Monkey Island. I’m not sure whether the likenesses were intentional but I appreciated them nonetheless.

Mutropolis, video game, Henry, Isis, man, woman, warrior, emojis, Imogese

Henry is a fan of old pop-culture and shares his knowledge throughout Mutropolis. For example, he explains that the figurine sitting on his desk is of legendary archaeologist Jones Hatman who was ‘very influential back in the day’, and that Al Capone was thought to be a popular quiz show host or soap actor. There’s also a character who speaks in an ancient language called Imogese which uses only symbols. Seeing how future inhabitants could interpret items from our time adds many comedic moments to the game.

Now on to the gameplay. On the whole, it’s just what you’d expect from a point-and-click: moving, talking and interacting actions are performed by left-clicking the mouse, and items are stored in an inventory opened using the scroll button. It’s worth noting though that there’s no right-click option to examine something more closely. This was something I noticed the absence of during certain puzzles when I wanted to examine an object to get a better feel for what I had to do with it.

Speaking of the puzzles, they usually tend to be a bit of a mixed bag in most adventure releases. Those at the beginning of Mutropolis were logical and gave a nice introduction to the world, something I commented on in my post about the demo during last summer’s Steam Game Festival. The further the title progressed however, the more I was left scratching my head and not always in a good way. If I hadn’t hit on the solution for a challenge towards the end of the title after a couple of tries, it could have turned into a frustrating hour of trial-and-error.

I think the game’s biggest issue is that it sometimes doesn’t give the player enough clues about what they’re supposed to do. For example, I spent over an hour trying to find an object – when one could be obtained from a particular character after using an unrelated machine, for which I was given very little information. I’m not asking for my hand to be held by an adventure but there needs to be enough detail for the player to be able to see things in the context of the digital world.

There were a few sections where I found myself trying to use-every-item-with-every-other-item in an attempt to stumble across the solution. There was one puzzle for which I thought I was going to have to give up and wait for a walkthrough to be published; but coming back to it the following day and a lucky click enabled me to progress. Mutropolis would have benefitted from a hint system of some kind, or at least a journal maintained by Henry to keep track of current objectives to give the player some direction.

I can’t say that it’s a bad game overall. When the challenges are logical and the character conversations and observations make you laugh out loud, it’s a really pleasant experience and one which is easy to get wrapped up in. And along with the visuals and voice-acting, the references to classic adventures invoke a lovely sense of nostalgia. But there are a few moments of confusion which may potentially deter some players and these could have been resolved with just a bit of extra dialogue.

Mutropolis is rather impressive though when you consider that it’s the first project from such a small team. You can tell a lot of love and effort has gone into it, and I’m curious to see how Pirita Studio will refine their ideas now that they’ve had this experience. Why not try the demo for yourself and see what you think?

The Longing: knowing Shade

Two months ago I began playing The Longing after kindly receiving a review key from Emily Morganti. This game by Studio Seufz is based on the Kyffhäuser legend, about a former emperor who sleeps in a hidden chamber beneath the hills.

The thing that had intrigued me about the project was the fact it can be played out in real time if you wish. Players take on the role of the servant of a king who once ruled an underground empire but now needs to sleep for 400 days in order to regain his faded powers. It’s your duty as his Shade to stay by his side in this earthen palace ready to awaken him once the final day has passed, waiting out that time in the darkness alone. But will you do as you’re told?

If you haven’t yet played The Longing but intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are some major spoilers in the following paragraphs which will damage your experience. Please be aware that mental health issues and suicide are also discussed below.

There are a few reviewers who are claiming this title takes 400 days to complete but I can assure you it doesn’t. I managed to finish The Longing earlier this month in just over 24 hours since starting to play on 18 January 2020. There are four endings in total and, although you can choose to simply let the clock run down without any action other than starting up the game, all of them can be reached in far less time if you put your mind to it and are willing to overcome certain obstacles.

In my preview, I explained that the protagonist is the reason why anyone would want to play a title like this when there’s not much ‘play’ to it. It’s amazing how taking away all the standard gameplay elements you expect and making time the main mechanic forces you to concentrate on the main character and their situation. I came to find myself caring for the little guy and wanting to look after him; so much so that I’d light a fire and leave him reading a book in his armchair before logging out.

I’d originally wanted to see all 400 days because it felt as though that choice would yield the best outcome for the Shade. But after several hours of play I started to question my decision: would he be happier if there were a different outcome? I realised that whatever path I took would most likely be permanent because it would take an awful lot of stamina to attempt a second go. In the end, curiosity won out and I led the protagonist in a journey towards the surface.

Do I regret that choice now? Not at all. But I’ve since watched the other final scenes on YouTube and it’s incredibly difficult to say whether there’s any totally positive outcome for the main character. I guess you could say I got the ‘good’ ending: the little guy was adopted by what seemed like a caring family after my escape plan was successful. But the king died alone and asleep on his thrown while his underground palace crumbled around him, with the Shade revealing he’d never be able to see him again.

The Longing, video game, King, Shade, throne room

All the endings are hard hitting but some more so than others. For example, you can follow the same path I did and attempt to make it to the world above through a well, but then be unsuccessful when you’re spotted by the wrong person. In this case you’ll see the Shade falling backwards and hitting the rocks in the cave below. The sense of despair felt by the player at having come so far before witnessing the protagonist’s death as the end credits roll successfully captures how it must feel to be told you’re going to spend 400 days alone.

The saddest outcome is when the main character takes his own life after finding a bottomless chasm. The Longing will prompt you for several responses to make sure you want to make this decision, before giving you a final choice: “End the game. You can’t play again.” Selecting this option causes the little guy to close his eyes and tip his body over the edge, before the screen fades to black and you see the message: “The longing has been wilfully ended. A soul is lost in the abyss and shall forever be alone.”

It’s been a few weeks now since completing the title and I’m still thinking about those endings. It might seem like a small and unassuming game at first, with cartoonish graphics and quirky-looking protagonist, but they hide a work which is far more serious and has left me feeling different. I’m not entirely sure how to explain it; it’s almost as if I’ve realised for the first time how people can be driven to certain actions through their loneliness, and I’m questioning why we don’t do more about this.

The fact that The Longing locks if you choose to follow through with the suicide ending just makes it even more poignant. It’s a difficult choice to make after putting so many hours into the game and, while it can in no way ever compare to what someone going through this in real life is facing, it does give a very small glimpse into what it’s like. The Face character says a line that has stuck with me: “The way to light is blocked by total darkness. You will only overcome darkness if you learn to become darkness.”

Although it’s slowly happening, the way we all think and act about mental health needs to change. Being open to the subject and talking about it frankly doesn’t have to be awkward or tense, and the associated stigma and exclusion will be a thing of the past once everybody realises this. Simply being there for a family member, friend or colleague can make a massive difference to them; solutions are sometimes unnecessary but knowing someone cares is invaluable.

If the little Shade has taught me anything, it’s that we need to look out for each other. And with everything going on in the world right now, that message is so important.

Mind is a charity which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Their confidential helplines are available from 09:00 to 18:00 GMT from Monday to Friday, and more details can be found here.

LUNA The Shadow Dust: like a cup of tea

As shared last week, the first game I had on my list for completion after GameBlast20 was LUNA The Shadow Dust. I’d been looking forward to settling down with a point-and-click after streaming for 50-days straight but only managing to finish one title during that entire time.

Lantern Studio’s project had appeared at several of the events I attended last year but I hadn’t really paid it much attention. Although It looked lovely in terms of artwork, the overview provided to attendees didn’t give much away; and as I’ve discussed recently, quieter games like this tend to fall under the radar at expos. But I accepted the offer when Emily Morganti contacted me about a review key – she has given me the opportunity to play some great adventures in the past so how could I refuse?

The same as the overview mentioned above, the game itself doesn’t give much away at the beginning either. You find yourself playing as a young boy falling through darkness until he’s enveloped in a bubble and safely lowered to the ground. He then begins a mysterious journey to climb an ancient tower full of locked doors and hidden secrets, until he reaches the highest point and regains his memories. But you might not like what you find there – or even be able to make sense of it.

LUNA is a point-and-click without words. It contains no written text or dialogue between characters and the history of its world is told through wall paintings, old book illustrations and objects decorating the environment. The developer says they wanted to use this style to preserve the magical atmosphere of the tower and I understand their desire to do so; but, as with all wordless adventures, there’s always a danger that some players may not fully grasp the narrative. More about that a bit later.

The boy makes his way from room to room throughout the old building, and the lock to each new door is opened when the puzzle before it is solved. It’s almost like a series of mini escape-rooms and the fact that each challenge is contained in this way makes it a relaxing title to play: there’s no having to remember locations, inventory or characters as there is with traditional point-and-clicks. Though the difficulty level isn’t particularly high and this might not be to the taste of seasoned adventurers, it does add to the chilled vibe.

The puzzles increase in challenge the further you make your way through the tower, but some are incredibly simple and at no point did I feel the need to turn to a walkthrough. At time you’ll find yourself matching colours or symbols and making it out of a room quickly; then at others, the puzzles will involve several steps and these are the most satisfying to solve. The penultimate feels like the longest, taking place over split levels and two locations, but is still fairly easy providing you’ve been paying attention to the clues given in the environment.

Shortly after the start of LUNA, you’ll rescue a round cat-like companion who accompanies you on your journey. The puzzles involving the pair are the highlights of the game thanks to their individual skill and I wish there could have been more of these moments. The cat is able dissolve into shadow and then use areas of darkness as physical ledges so, as the boy’s silhouette casts shape on the wall, the feline can make its way up to higher locations. This is used to great effect in a challenge where it’s necessary to pull a lever.

It’s impossible to write about the title without mentioning its artwork and it truly is lovely. Thanks to traditional cel animation, it feels as though you’re watching a cartoon from your childhood. The music perfectly suits the gameplay and all elements combine wonderfully in a music room section, where you must make cat clones and get each of them to sing a different note at the right moment to recreate a tune. Watch the whole song – which is pretty easy to do because the whole thing is beautiful – and you’ll earn yourself an achievement.

The best way I can describe this game is that it’s like a cup of tea. It’s warm and inviting, and makes you think of cosy evenings curled up on the sofa; but it’s not particularly exciting and it’s over far too quickly. Perhaps my biggest grumble is how many details get lost in the wordless telling of its story. I’m not saying that a game has to spell out every single plot point to the player but, when you have to refer to a DLC artbook for a written explanation of the narrative to understand most of what’s happening, it feels like something is missing.

But also like a cup of tea, LUNA The Shadow Dust is a nice way to spend a couple of hours on a lazy afternoon. Stick the kettle on and give it a go.

The Longing: growing Shade

The Kyffhäuser legend tells the tale of a former emperor who sleeps in a chamber beneath the hills. When his subjects needs him the most, he shall emerge from under the ground to lead the country back to its former glory – but no other good kings shall reign until that time.

A related poem written in 1817 by Friedrich Rückert mentions a ‘dwarf’ who is sent out every hundred years to see if the time is right for his return. So let’s forget about the king for a moment: what about this servant? Would he be lonely in the cave underground with nobody for company? How would he keep himself occupied during all those hours? What would he have to do to hold onto his sanity throughout the centuries of isolation, and would he find some kind of happiness in his existence?

These questions could be answered in The Longing, an upcoming experimental game by Studio Seufz scheduled for release early next month. Players take on the role of the last servant of a king who once ruled an underground empire, but now needs to sleep for 400 days to regain his faded powers. It’s your duty as the Shade to stay in this earthen palace ready to awaken your ruler at the end of that period; so what are you going to do with so much time on your hands?

What intrigued me after receiving a review key for The Longing from Emily Morganti last month was the fact that each of those 400 days can be played out in real time. You can start the game, turn it off, come back to it three months later and legitimately reach one of the endings. If you’re the more adventurous type however, you can explore the caves and find puzzles to solve or even try to escape – but those thinking of cheating the system by changing the clock on their PC should be warned, for the Shade will find himself sent to a dungeon.

As if that poor little guy wasn’t having a hard enough time already! While the king snores away in his grand hall, our tiny pal gets a small hole carved into the rock by his feet. I felt kind of sorry for him so the first objective I gave myself when starting the game was to try and make his existence a little more comfortable, if not exciting. My initial explorations of the cave system yielded several discoveries and a few items which would hopefully put a smile back on the Shade’s sad face.

These included parts for a trumpet-like instrument which gave him a way to make music; and paper and coloured chalks, so he could create drawings and use them to decorate the walls of his hole. If you’re able to pick up enough pieces of flint and lumps of coal, you can also make a fire that will provide warmth for a few minutes. Time flows more quickly in the Shade’s home than in the caverns outside and you can get him to perform activities like this to speed it up even further.

The Longing, video game, Shade, bookcase, armchair, fire, living room, home, crystals, paintings, table, rugs

Other pastimes include reading books. Five can be found on his bookcase at the start of the game, including the Shade’s journal. In here he expresses his thoughts and it’s a great way of giving objectives to players without making them feel as though it’s a requirement to complete them. You can choose to do something about the little guy’s wish to ‘grow some pretty mushrooms’ or completely ignore it – but if you’re going to fulfil his desires, you’ll need to adventure out into the caves.

The Shade has 400 days to fill so there’s no need for him to move quickly. There’s no run button or fast-travel and, while some may view their absence with frustration, including those features would have taken something away from The Longing’s atmosphere. Here is a game where patience is rewarded. The terrain of the underground cave system changes over time and will reveal puzzle solutions if you wait long enough: moss will slowly grow to cushion your fall, and a drip will form a pond you can swim across.

I’m guessing there are some readers who are asking themselves why anyone would play a title like this, when there’s not exactly much ‘play’ to it. The answer is simple: the Shade. It’s amazing how taking away all of the standard gameplay elements and making time the main mechanic forces you to concentrate on the protagonist and their situation. It’s a risky move by Studio Seufz and won’t be to everybody’s taste, but if you’re willing to give it a chance and plenty of time, there’s something rather special here.

After leaving The Longing running while doing housework one day, I returned to my laptop an hour or so later to find the guy curled up in a ball on the stone floor. How could a video game inspire such a sense of guilt?! I felt so bad that I changed the way I handle it. Before logging out now, I’ll get the Shade to build a fire before sitting him in his armchair and choosing a book so he has something for entertainment, at least for a little while. I can’t really explain it but doing this somehow feels fairer.

The Longing,  video game, King, Shade, throne room

This post isn’t a review because I’ve got a long way to go before I reach an ending. Originally I wanted to see all 400 days because it felt like that would yield the best outcome for the Shade but now I’m starting to question my decision. Would he be happier if he escaped to the outside world? And what would happen if he got impatient and woke the king early? Whatever decision the player makes is likely to be permanent, because it’s going to take an awful lot of stamina to attempt a second go.

The Longing’s strength lies in the way it makes you care for the character. It’s difficult not to think about the Shade occasionally when I’m not at my laptop and wonder what’s going to happen to him. ‘Wait…’ says the loading screen, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

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Guard Duty: standing to attention

Every so often, a Kickstarter campaign comes along you regret not backing. Sick Chicken Studios’ launched their project for Guard Duty in February 2017 but the first time I heard about it was in January when Emily Morganti kindly got in touch with the offer of a key.

The full game has now been released since that preview and I’ve had the opportunity to play it through to the end. The previous build focused on Tondbert Roughskin, part-time-drunk and three-quarters dwarf, in medieval Wrinklewood. After slacking on his duties at Night’s Watchman as the result of partaking in a few too many birthday beverages, he unwittingly lets a mysterious stranger into the town and wakes up in the morning to a quest to save the kidnapped Princess Theramin.

Now jump a thousand years into the future to 2177 where Agent Starborn is Lieutenant General of the Guardians of New Haven, a resistance group embarking on a last-ditch effort to overthrow an alien-like evil and take back Earth. How are the fates of Tondbert and Starborn intertwined? Can they help each other across the span of time to save humanity? And most importantly: can Tondbert save the Princess and get a kiss from her at the end of the game? You’ll just have to play to find out.

If you like the classic point-and-click adventures and love Simon the Sorcerer in particular, then Guard Duty will be one for you. There’s something nostalgic about it which makes you feel as though you’re stepping back to the early 1990s despite it featuring a streamlined interface to bring it up to date. The visuals certainly help this sensation: for example, the forest reminded me of the similar setting in the first Simon instalment, and some of the characters throughout the title look as though they’re related to those in the Sorcerer’s world.

The Simon the Sorcerer poster stuck to the dartboard in Tondbert’s bedroom that I noticed while playing the preview has sadly been removed, but there are plenty of references to older games and films to keep fans happy. There were a few times I genuinely chuckled after hearing a line from a movie and then the protagonist remark on how cliched it was. It all serves to wrap you up in a lovely warm blanket of nostalgia as you work your way through both Wrinklewood and New Haven for just over five hours.

And what are those hours filled with? Well, it wouldn’t be an adventure without puzzles. The thing that struck me was just how logical they are: use a rope if you want to climb out of a window, grab that hot cup of stew from your inventory if you need to melt some ice. It’s all very intuitive. The gameplay takes a more contextual turn when you step into the shoes of Agent Starborn and this gives is an almost ‘cinematic’ feel, which suits the 80-style futuristic titles and the Lieutenant General’s save-the-world personality.

Guard Duty isn’t as challenging as a lot of other point-and-clicks so if that’s something you’re looking for, then you may come away slightly disappointed. But for me, it was great playing an adventure game that wasn’t trying to be difficult – and it was a pleasure to complete a title without having to turn to a walkthrough once! There’s also none of the mechanics which usually lead to frustration, such as needless backtracking and pixel-hunting, and Sick Chicken Studios have done a good of job modernising the genre.

Adventures can sometimes be overwhelming and the nature of their puzzles can make it seem as though you have an endless to-do list. Fortunately though here, Tondbert is scribbling notes throughout his journey and I found myself looking at these whenever I needed to check my current objective. Having them written in the protagonist’s handwriting, complete with silly doodles and spelling mistakes, was a lovely touch that adds to the personality of his character.

As handy as these notes are, over the course of the game it becomes clear that they aren’t just there for player reference. I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody planning to play Guard Duty – and I’d highly recommend that you do – but it’s revealed just how important they are towards the end of the title. The narrative may be short and players might not get to spend as much time with Starborn as they do with Tondbert, but it’s wrapped up in a way which nicely ties everything together.

In fact, it was the story that was the highlight for me as Sick Chicken Studios’ release sort of takes you by surprise. It’s very unassuming game with the pixel-graphics and light-hearted nature we’ve come to expect from point-and-clicks; and its tale of knight-wants-to-save-princess at first seems like standard genre fare. But these factors actually hide a very touching plot with a great message and you’ll be feeling all warm and fuzzy inside by the final credits.

Hopefully we’ll get to see Tondbert and Agent Starborn in a sequel in the future. And if the developer ever decides to do a Kickstarter campaign for it, they’ve already got their first backer right here.