Video games get compared to a lot of different mediums. But you don’t see many games that try to emulate a child’s storybook. As someone who has kids of his own and a burgeoning library of said storybooks, I feel that trying to encapsulate such visual storytelling, replete with a moral and painterly style, is a bold move. Old Man’s Journey is unlike anything you’ve ever played.
This is a good thing.
Old Man’s Journey follows, well, an old man as he leaves his cottage by the edge of the sea after receiving what must be a dour letter from the postman. With a solemn look upon his face, he packs up a knapsack and blanket, picks up a solid looking walking stick and treks across a vaguely Mediterranean-looking countryside to atone for whatever that letter held.
Old Man’s Journey has a wonderful sense of place. Each new area feels open with its rolling hills, roaring seas and well-worn footpaths. The game does a wonderful job of introducing you to each new place, giving it a much larger scope in perception than in actuality. You don’t control the old man directly – rather, you point to where you’d like him to go with either the touch screen or a marker you control with the analog stick. But he’ll be blocked off from his route unless you manipulate the environment to connect the various paths from the fore and background together. From a mechanical perspective, this is what you’ll do for the entirety of the experience. It’s an easy-to-grasp and simple gameplay style, yet like any proper adventure, it’s not about where you’re going, but how you get there.
Each new area feels like a puzzle, with you moving hills up and down to try to get the old man to “hop” to the next vista. New mechanics are introduced, such as waterfalls and sheep that force you to not only manipulate the environment, but also consider how your actions affect the world around you. Nothing in particular is head-scratch inducing, but the sense of accomplishment feels solid nonetheless. At the end of each stretch you are treated to the old man laying his things down and resting, which gives you a beautifully depicted flashback of our protagonist’s life. It’s wonderfully tender as it builds up to and fleshes out why he chose to leave the house. You’ll eventually catch on to what may happen in the end, but it endears you to the old man as you can feel the sorrow you see in his eyes.
The game is broken up from time to time with a different play style that involves a similar world-manipulating mechanic, but in more brisk and charming vehicle segments. I’d rather not give too many spoilers, but I will say that these segues feel apt and offer a nice break from what you’d normally do.
At around two hours, Old Man’s Journey feels as short as the storybooks it tries to imitate. This isn’t to its detriment by any means; also like a good picture book, it gets to its point in the amount of time it needs to, and is all the better for it. The emotional rollercoaster you go through wouldn’t work as well otherwise, and its impact would be lessened. The gameplay is fresh and interesting, but the true meat of the game is in the little moments as you watch the old man push forward to try to make amends by any means necessary. You’ll smile, you’ll cheer, you’ll feel sad and maybe you’ll even shed a tear. Regardless, it’s worth doing all those things.
Old Man’s Journey is available digitally for Android, iOS, Mac, PC and Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Old Man’s Journey was provided by Broken Rules. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.
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