Old Man’s Journey
Developer: Broken Rules
Publisher: Broken Rules
Release Date: 02.20.2018
Old Man’s Journey for Nintendo Switch is best described as an interactive storybook. It isn’t really a visual novel, as there is no reading. A beautifully illustrated world comes to life as the titular old man begins his titular journey around and beyond his hometown.
The story begins when we see a letter carrier bringing a lone envelope to our subject. He opens up the letter, reads it, and becomes sad but wistful. This prompts the old man to enter his home, put together a backpack, and grab his walking stick. From there, we are given control of the old man and must now guide him in the right direction, pointing and clicking to people and objects of interest along the way.
One of the ways in which we interact with the world is by clicking on people to spur them in to action (one example is when you click on a breaking crane operator and he puts his sandwich down to test his crane he has been working on). This means of interaction helps the worldless story progress without tutorial or explanation. The meatier part of the gameplay is found in dragging the various environmental elements such as hills and walkways in to overlapping sections by which the old man can jump between and continue along his path. While this is a very laid back experience, for the most part, there is a train right that you embark upon that leads to some more intense moments…even if there is no room for failure. You drag the different pieces of the track in to alignment so that the train can keep moving forward, and there are branching paths that you may choose. If you don’t pull it up in time, the train simply stops until you do, but you gain momentum if you successfully get the tracks aligned before it gets to them, and it is very satisfying to see the train whooshing across the landscape when you pull it off. Generally speaking, these paths are quite obvious, but sometimes you have to think it out a little bit, which makes for some very rewarding puzzles.
In spite of it’s short runtime, which only takes about an hour and a half, Old Man’s Journey tells a compelling and deeply emotional story of one man’s adventure through life. It also does this masterfully through the occasional cutscenes that depicts his memories as triggered by certain events in the story. While Old Man’s Journey is a short trip, it feels like it couldn’t have gone on much longer without overstaying its welcome. It hits that sweet spot of not being too long, but feeling like it lasted just the right amount of time. It offers little in the way of immediate replayability, but I can see myself going back and taking advantage of the ability to replay chapters after you have completed them just to enjoy the beautiful world once again. This is especially true of the train ride, which I have all ready replayed a couple of times.
Old Man’s Journey isn’t for everyone, and whether or not you get your money’s worth will be up to your own personal assessments of value. To me, it felt very much like I was reading a storybook to my children about reflection and the acceptance of loss, very much akin to Pixar’s Up. As such, the price point felt just right for me, but for others, a sale might be a better option. I really wish that I could have written more to better communicate the beauty of this game and the neat little package that it is, but I’m at a loss for words for how best to describe it. I’d recommend it for anyone that needs a break from shooting up bad guys and exploring deep labyrinths.
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