I like it when a video game subverts my expectations.
The gaming spectrum is broad, and it’s only getting wider – and I like that developers are willing to explore the potential of more emotional experiences instead of just mechanical ones. Which brings me to Turnfollow’s Wide Ocean Big Jacket.
If I were to label Wide Ocean Big Jacket, I would call it a dramedy. And it’s a pretty good rendition of reality – all the hopes and failures of life succinctly brought out by snippets of conversations and the occasional quiet contemplation of a good hike. My favorite part of the game involves amateur ornithology, which is followed by a bittersweet discussion between a couple about their future. There is no wrong or right side to the whole thing – it’s all down to the perspectives of the characters. It’s affecting because the game doesn’t take a particular stance, instead punting it to the player to decide what is ‘right’. Wide Ocean Big Jacket opens many doors, but never closes any of them, leaving the player to perseverate on what happened.
Wide Ocean Big Jacket is a vignette in the lives of a family out for a weekend getaway in the woods. Brad and his wife Clo take their niece Mord and her new boyfriend Ben out for a camping trip. The game is made up of key moments: earnest and heartfelt conversations, goofy or solemn situations in nature, and gut-wrenching realizations. None of them truly lead on to each other. There is no build up, no rhyme or reason, and the connections between these moments are tenuous at best.
They are startling thanks to their multiple perspectives. We are constantly switching viewpoints between characters, giving the game a truly mature approach. Sometimes we witness moments that only adults would understand or worry about; other moments reflect the way kids perceive situations with their narrow world view. Most importantly, the game shows how it’s best to connect these viewpoints. And when you’re not trying to mentally grok what just happened, you’re following a trail up a hill or heading to the beach in more pensive moments. It gives you time to process – and if Wide Ocean Big Jacket was going to teach the player anything, it would be to get into your own headspace and think things through by taking in a bit of nature.
In its roughly hour or so run time, Wide Ocean Big Jacket does a wonderful job of building within itself a small world, with endearing characters and a cohesive sense of place. Like a good book or film, I can see myself going back to it just to revel in the dialog and the sun-soaked locale. In a medium that mostly likes to excite players with action moments and set pieces, Wide Ocean Big Jacket is content with letting you enjoy a stroll down a wooded path or pull an intoxicant out of a cooler.
I enjoy excitement – but I’ll always remember those thoughtful walks.
Wide Ocean Big Jacket was developed by Turnfollow and published by Tender Claws, and is available on PC and Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: review code for Wide Ocean Big Jacket was provided by Raz PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.