Developed by: Broken Rules
Published by: Broken Rules
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mobile
Release Date: Out Now
This is a game I had my eye on for a long time whilst browsing the Nintendo eShop, and when it was discounted from £8.99 to under £2… well, it’s such a great deal that it’s hard to resist! Having now played through Old Man’s Journey, I discovered a touching story, even if similar subject matter has been tackled by many other games before. As an interactive experience you can feasibly finish in one or two sessions, there is both a lot to appreciate and a lot that could have been developed more.
Old Man’s Journey is about an elderly man who, with you controlling, traverses through many different 2D landscapes with his rucksack and walking stick as he reminisces about his life. You start off at his house on the cliffside, and are not told his name throughout the game – there is no text dialogue at all, actually. Instead, you are intuitively led from point to point; the end of each area often has you taking a rest, taking off your rucksack, and zooming in as you see a memory of his life. These images are stunningly drawn, with the emotion of the situations evidently emerging from the screen. As you see past moments of his wife, child, and more, a picture of how he got to where he is now starts to form.
To get to these moments, you have to make your way through the environments first. To move, you either touch the screen or move the cursor to where you would like to go, placing a marker to signify the destination. You can also occasionally affect other parts of the world; open or shut a window, turn on a lamp, to mention two examples. The touch control is much more suitable, as it allows you to make quick decisions and movements, whilst the analogue stick takes time to position the cursor where you would like to put it – there are also some situations where you need quite immediate responses, and touch control works much better for these. This isn’t really a criticism, more a recommendation of which way to play given the two options.
Rise and Fall
As an extension of this, you then have to use the same type of control to alter the areas around you into a position that the man can get through. Each natural layer of the world – imagine the foreground, background, and more of a landscape – can be adjusted up and down, revealing undulations that – when arranged correctly – can be situated in a way that connect and form a path to traverse. It is a clever idea, and suits the slow, quiet narrative being told, but in terms of gameplay it is never used to the maximum potential. Especially towards the end of the game, I was waiting for that moment where the mechanic had a really intelligent new twist or extra element (the way a 3D Mario game takes a concept and makes many different scenarios out of it), but it never really happened.
There are, however, some sections where you are in a vehicle and that alters the dynamic, but often the core of the gameplay is the same – just with a different movement style. They aren’t really adding much different to the central idea, even if the different visual aspects are welcome. Instead, there is a repetition of the same concept, which becomes noticeable and takes you out of the moment. Also, there was one section where the way I moved the world left me stuck and unable to continue, and I ended up starting the section again, which didn’t seem an intentional option for the player. This seemed an oversight.
In a similar way, the story of this man and the people he cares about – although undeniably powerful (I won’t say too much about it) – is shown in a very direct way for the player. I am a person who really values it when part of the story is left to your imagination, but I feel as though a bit more on the characters would have helped me to have my imagination run with it. Not necessarily how they got to this point, but who they are as people. In addition, the game took me around 2-3 hours to play through, and is perhaps a bit on the short side for the £8.99 price.
Now a word on the art direction. I have talked about the amazing artwork for the memories; furthermore, the 2D world is vibrant and has a slight paper-crafted aesthetic, which accentuates the way you interact with the separate layers of it. The clearly defined shapes that make up the character models and topography also give the game a certain quirky charm, as if you are viewing an arthouse animation short. It really matches up well with the types of surroundings you encounter, from quaint houses to scenic hillsides. Complimenting this is the tranquil soundtrack, the delicate tunes subtly encouraging you along.
The characters dotted around each have their own distinct visual vibes, too. As aforementioned, there is no spoken dialogue, but the sounds characters do make have an endearing quality that perhaps tells you a little more about their personalities; this only happens now and then, though.
Old Man’s Journey is a narrative-driven game that has a smart central gameplay mechanic it very much sticks to without pushing to the full potential. It left me wondering if puzzles could have been made more complex, and yet it also has a forgiving feeling that makes it a great game for relaxing with one evening on your Nintendo Switch – especially as the game is not very long. The story is affecting and the presentation is welcoming; just, perhaps, some of those ideas could have been built upon more.