Despite Nazism seemingly being in vogue again amongst some of the more despicable members of humanity, most will agree that World War II was amongst the most harrowing times in the history of our race. We’ve no shortage of media which has since recounted the atrocities of the war, both literally and allegorically. The latest is My Memory of Us, a puzzle adventure telling the story of a boy and girl caught up in the events following Germany’s occupation of Poland.
In short, My Memory of us is a satisfying puzzle game. It’s a lovingly drawn piece of animation with plenty of character. My Memory of Us is not, however, an entirely successful tribute to World War II.
My Memory of Us’ story is recounted by an elderly gentleman – voiced by Patrick Stewart, no less. As a young boy, he meets a girl and they soon become best friends. But then the ‘Robot King’ invades, leading his vast army of robot soldiers to occupy the country. Before long they discriminate against a section of the population, marking them red to denote their lower status. First they’re chastised and forced to live in ghettos, then captured and shipped off to remote camps. The girl is one of the so-called ‘red folk.’
It’s a thinly-veiled allegory, but the concept works. Nazis as subservient, unfeeling droids is an effective analogy. Their fantastical machinery, from searcher drones to giant attack bots and rocket ships – many of which are adorned with crude, twisted faces – conveys their reign of terror as entirely inhuman, alien.
The world is beautifully animated, albeit completely grayscale – save for the red folk and points of interest. Though such a limited colour palette could have come across drab, the quirky Steampunk-esque style, painstaking attention to detail and effective use of contrast make My Memory of Us visually arresting. Stylistically, it works both in terms of portraying a classic era and the darkness within it.
It’s unfortunate, then, that My Memory of Us stumbles in its clumsy tone. Simply put, it’s just too light-hearted at times, considering the horrors it portrays. The Nazi robots may look creepy, but they speak and laugh in a garbled Simlish and are the victims of numerous silly pranks, making their presence border on the comical at times. Some levels, too, are startlingly playful in nature. There’s a bizarre Battletoads speeder bike-style level in which you chase after the girl, who’s just been kidnapped, smiling and waving from the back of the van. Facial expressions are regularly incongruous with the context: 90% of the time, the boy and girl smile cheerfully as they trek across their war-torn country, constantly putting themselves in mortal danger. It’s jarring.
The conceit that My Memory of Us is told through a children’s tale goes some way towards explaining this disconnect. And the protagonists’ carefree disregard for their traumatic situation can be interpreted as a product of childhood innocence and astonishing stoicism. I thoroughly believe that Polish developers Juggler Games wanted to handle the tragic history of their country with the respect it deserves. I just can’t help but feel that a darker tone would have been more appropriate.
As the latter third of the game gets underway, however, My Memory of Us leans in harder to an oppressive atmosphere more befitting of the situation. There’s a striking moment of surrealism as you climb a mountain of oversized luggage, in search of a lost teddy bear. Strings play remorsefully in the background. Children can be heard sobbing in distress. It’s a powerful portrait of the cruel and forceful displacement of thousands from their homes. If the game had gone all-in on this heavy, unsettling feel throughout, the result would have been arguably more compelling.
Thankfully, the game’s puzzles hit the mark much more consistently. There’s an impressive variety of challenges, from item-centric puzzles straight out of classic point-and-click adventures to rewiring, tile shifting, mazes and riddles. On the whole, they’re well balanced for difficulty, mostly veering on the side of brain-tickling rather than brain-busting. One flaw is that sometimes character thought bubbles give away the solution – if you need something sharp to cut an object, for instance, it may explicitly illustrate a sword, even though you have little reason to believe there’s a sword somewhere that you can use. Take a look, of course, and you’ll find a sword.
My Memory of Us is also peppered with action sequences, which are a little more questionable in their execution. Instant-fail stealth sequences abound, admittedly pertinent in context given that your characters would be sentenced to death if caught. And there are several driving sequences and chase encounters. While these add a smattering of tension or adrenaline to an otherwise more stately undertaking, the controls occasionally let the side down. There’s a perceptible latency and a general clunkiness and inaccuracy to traversing levels which can lead to unfair deaths. But this isn’t a chronic issue, nor a deal-breaker by any means.
Though I feel that its heart is in the right place, My Memory of Us made me feel a little uncomfortable at times – for all the wrong reasons. But it’s still a tale worth experiencing, full of bravery and persistence of the human spirit. Creatively-designed puzzles and presentation make it an engaging adventure, and the game better handles its tough subject matter as it marches towards its cathartic, redemptive denouement.