Some puzzles are better shared.
Indie games are the go-to for co-operative experiences. Tick Tock: A Tale For Two takes the industry’s seemingly exclusive genre and spreads it physically across two devices, the next logical step in a canon of shared experiences. The result is a cacophony of ideas and an almost feverish sharing of narrative exposition and clues. While the available preview only provides a glimpse into the time-bending world of Tick Tock, it’s clear to see that narrative, mechanics, and puzzle design are all tightly interwoven in this cross-platform mystery.
The expanse of these co-op options leaves little to no barrier for entry, meaning that on release you’ll be able to ask pretty much any gaming-oriented or open-minded friend to download the app and jump into your game with you. While it’s unclear at this stage whether multiple different players can enter and exit a master narrative, or if two players must complete the story together, it’s easier to see the latter taking hold of players much easier. There’s no linking of devices required to play, as each player 1 or player 2 option is linearly designed to compliment and inform the other, without requiring data from a partner’s gameplay or device. Such design allows for a release that can be played in a manner similar to the former experience while the desire for a linear storyline may swing your preference to the latter.
The best experience, though, will be between two people willing to involve themselves in the story but offering different ideas. It may be tricky to align your own understandings of the complex narrative at work here with that of your partner, but that consistent dedication from the start will account for individualistic interpretations. While this is true of all co-op experiences, the reliance on past gameplay experiences to inform your progression will offer developers Other Tales Interactive an interesting challenge. That said, if you can find yourself a partner on the same wavelength but perhaps slightly different frequencies, you’re in for a real treat.
You and your partner are tasked with piecing together a story of loss and mystery, relying on one another to paint a full picture. The co-operative format ultimately excels in providing a shared experience both intensely relaxing and full of post-solution excitement.
The roughly 15 minute preview we played lays out the initial premise of Tick Tock as a forlorn experience created by Amalie, a seemingly absent protagonist seeking answers surrounding her sister Lærk’s disappearance. Players travel back in time to the early 20th century and explore a world of mysterious happenings and many, many clocks.
This narrative is often interwoven with the puzzles themselves. Solving a puzzle will allow both players to learn more about the story which will then provide you with the tools you need to solve another puzzle and move on. It’s a classic puzzle mechanic that acts as the backbone for many similar point-and-click adventures. Split across a shared experience, however, it leaves a distinctly communal sense of discovery.
The players’ first test is to put their two halves of a newspaper clipping together to learn this simple story premise, before using the details of Lærk’s disappearance to wind a clock and travel into the main location of the game. There’s a reason this is a co-op experience; every puzzle requires the input of both parties, with each having exclusive information they must exchange for both players to progress. These puzzles generally consist of matching one player’s screen with another by swapping symbols on a safe, or with sentences running off the side of one device, bleeding into the next. The vast majority of these puzzles are satisfying enough, though it being a preview I’m sure there will be a needed increase in difficulty curve deeper into the game. Not all ‘puzzles’ are to be solved, there’s a nice pacing of uncertain solutions, collectable items, and narrative exposition cultivated as players move through the town, which bodes well for the stream of experience in the final release.
For a title in which puzzles and narrative are tied together so intrinsically, it is a little confusing that several of the brainteasers experienced in the preview have seemingly arbitrary solutions. One situation found me switching on a light bulb to reveal instructions for player 2 in which every other word or so had been removed. That’s pretty straightforward and fair enough; light bulbs let you see. To find the rest of the clue, however, players have to turn the wheel on a model train to produce steam, which magically reveals the rest of the words with no reason for this solution provided. While regular fodder for older puzzle games, an experience as creatively forward-thinking as Tick Tock would suggest slightly more depth in its approach to solutions, and when the storyline itself is as heavily integrated into these puzzles as it presents itself in this game, such shallow design is a confusing departure from an otherwise neatly-seamed experience.
The muted, at times almost grey-scale colour palette, and echoey whispers in the distance create an atmosphere of loss and loneliness, accented by fleeting stories of life long passed. The co-op structure of Tick Tock amplifies this desolate aesthetic; while your own presence in the story is yet to be explained, players are truly drawn together by their sole presence in this forgotten town.
At its heart, Tick Tock is a shared experience pulling players towards one another through a cautionary world of isolation. I can’t wait to dive into the experience fully with a good friend on PC, Mac, Switch, or mobile on release in Q1 2019.