A delightful puzzler with a tale to tell.
When I play games, I want to get told a story. A tale in which I can tell everyone I know around me so they can also share in that experience. A subtle story is even better in my opinion, because if you can tell a story without a single piece of dialogue or exposition and still keep me intrigued, you are doing something right. Old Man’s Journey did exactly that.
Releasing last year on Steam, iOS and Android but now making its debut on the Nintendo Switch, Old Man’s Journey is a simple and emotional tale of adventure, loss, life and hope. You’ll help and guide the old man through various locations by solving puzzles to direct him to the right path or even just to see the next part of the beautifully designed landscapes the game beholds. Despite having such an amazing art direction and story, some of the puzzles in the game were definitely weaker than others, so with that said that’s where I would like to start.
Old Man’s Journey’s gameplay involves very basic puzzle solving. You simply move the background of the given environment you are in and link together the height of landscape, allowing you to traverse either higher or lower. In some scenarios you are given additional challenges such as deciding which waterfalls to fall down, destroying walls which block your path and herding groups of sheep out of your way so that you can progress.
Giving credit where credit is due, these elements all mesh together very well but in some cases like the waterfall puzzles I think they could have been more fleshed out. What would happen, for example, if you went down a waterfall and there was a rushing river? On the fly you would have to raise an island at the right time or be stuck in another area and have to solve an additional puzzle to get back to the progression path.
Very similar to this is the wall destruction puzzles. When I first saw a wooden barrel in the environment I knew it definitely wasn’t for scenery, but I didn’t know it was for destruction either. I understand that puzzle games are supposed to make players experiment but when I saw a wooden barrel, it wasn’t obvious that it could destroy a stone wall. Maybe a clearer introduction would help improve this as they were some of my favourite puzzles to solve in the game.
Last but not least, though, are the sheep puzzles. These were my least favourite, as when attempting to control the sheep my cursor couldn’t decide which direction they were going in. I would, for some reason, get stuck in between them and have to restart the game in order to fix it. I am sure the developers know of this bug and many others and are working hard to fix it as soon as possible but this was annoying. These complaints are very minor in all honesty and I think that everything else Broken Rules have achieved with Old Man’s Journey needs to be commended.
Old Man’s Journeys’ art direction is one of the best I have seen in an indie title in a good while. I say this because various other puzzle games rarely hit this level of polish while trying to collaborate their gameplay with their art design. From a glimpse of the newly presented backgrounds at the start of each level, I could easily identify which objects I could move in the environment to progress forward. From the littlest detail like the waterfalls flowing down or even just the old man himself, everything looks like it was handcrafted to perfection and taken straight out of an episode of The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. The ending of each level just shows this even more with a magically crafted set piece from one of the old man’s memories.
As I said at the start, I am a fan of subtle storytelling. I was very surprised at how much of an emotional reaction Old Man’s Journey got out of me by the end credits. From the very beginning, the game had a story to tell and it never had to say a word. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind, as seeing the old man’s life play out through each one of his memories and where he eventually ends up is a perfect and fitting way to tell his story.
I don’t want to say too much more about Old Man’s Journey as I think playing it blind is the best possible experience to have, but I will conclude by saying this: very few games really show what gaming can do as a medium for both storytelling and art. But Old Man’s Journey nails it directly on the head and everyone I know who hasn’t played this amazing title yet definitely will be doing so soon.