Fowl play afoot.
In a tiny little English village with one pub and a shop and a name I don’t know are an elderly man and woman whose yards are adjacent. Precariously adjacent, it turns out, separated by a fence with a hole patched with boards and a string. The string is loose enough that someone, a bird even, could pluck it free and sneak between the two yards in order to steal a pair of socks to dunk in the fountain. Which is exactly what this bird proceeds to do.
I don’t know the name of the pub or the town or my two unwitting victims because I am a goose. What I do know are the five bulleted items on my notebook page titled “to do.” It includes tasks of imminent importance such as “get dressed up with a ribbon” and “do the washing,” which explains the sock soaking. Whether the list is assembled by a goose sentient enough to write in cursive or by an omniscient goose god, I do not know and do not care. There’s mischief to be made in the village and it simply won’t be achieved without one very determined goose.
The Untitled Goose Game begins with a quick rundown of your goose abilities. You can run, duck, honk, and pick things up with your beak. It doesn’t sound like much, until you realize how carelessly the hapless inhabitants of the village leave their possessions lying about, begging them to be stolen.
The goose journey begins in the village gardens terrorizing the groundskeeper. Most of your goose tasks revolve around some combination of theft and comically-timed honking. Your to do list starts with simply getting through the locked gate and continues on to more difficult tasks like assembling a picnic by pilfering the poor groundskeeper’s lunch.
The groundskeeper exists in a somewhat uneasy truce with the goose. He’ll mostly ignore your existence, stopping to give you a stern look if you get too close and only chasing you if you steal something that belongs to him. You can sneak up and grab items off his person or nab other items from the garden while he’s not looking. It is, despite what the cute and colorful low-poly aesthetic suggests, a stealth puzzle game.
Controlling your goose is typically smooth, though there’s an occasional frustration when fleeing a pursuing villager with a stolen item in your beak that a goose can’t turn on a pin for a quick escape. Learning the limits of your ungainly goose body quickly becomes part of the puzzle, though, rather than a mechanical failure. Aside from that mild complaint, Untitled Goose Game runs much smoother than your average water fowl with no frame rate issues or bugs to make note of.
After completing most, but not necessarily all, of the objectives in an area, a last asterisked task is scrawled in the notebook which when successfully completed will lead to the next area of goose-related mayhem in the village. Although the gardener was mostly ambivalent to the presence of the goose until provoked, other townsfolk are warier. The shopkeeper in the square won’t let you near her wares, chasing you off with a broom until you find a way to disarm her.
Each villager has a small routine like any stealth game grunt might. The shopkeeper transitions from sweeping the pavement to using a labeler on items, both of which might provide time for a wiley goose to waddle in and grab a toothbrush or an umbrella. The elderly man in the garden alternates between drinking tea and reading the paper while his neighbor putters around her garden and works on a painting.
The main puzzle is in using your few goose skills to disrupt these routines until they collide with other villagers or discover new pieces of the environment that you can disrupt. I need the shopkeeper to leave the broom unattended. So I steal a pair of glasses from the stand, honk to get her attention, and then sprint away to dunk the spectacles in a puddle to distract her while I run back and drag the broom off where she can no longer use it against me. I should likely feel bad for distressing them, but poking and prodding at the possibilities in each area is too much fun to feel any remorse.
Each list item, when achieved, slides onto the bottom of the screen to be crossed off in a quick vignette over the top of the action. They’re often timed just right, meaning they’ll likely make their rounds on social media serving as both a punchline and a tip to the solution for many of Untitled Goose Game’s puzzles.
Though it isn’t long, consisting of four main “to do” lists in the four areas of the village: the garden, high street, back gardens, and pub, Untitled Goose Game easily pulls you in for a second go round with a new set of checklists (“to do also”) that appear after your first adventure.
These two new lists written on graphing paper are slightly more complex tasks that often involve cross-pollinating items and villagers between areas that were previously self-contained. Lastly then, there’s the “to do (quickly!!)” task list. Because of course, you can speedrun the goose game. All told, I spent under five hours fussing about completing everything but the speed tasks.
Untitled Goose Game is one of those rare experiences that plays exactly the way its trailer suggests. To do items are crossed off in perfect comedic timing over top of beleaguered villagers falling prey to goose antics. The goose sprints frantically away from the same villagers, ill-gotten goods in beak, to jaunty classical piano riffs. There’s a cheeky push and pull between stealthily making mischief and honking in someone’s face and waddling away gleefully. It’s safe to say that if you had a chuckle at Untitled Goose Game’s trailers, you’ll have several more enacting all the fowl play yourself.
[Reviewed on Switch]