Have you ever listened to The Archers? The gentle Radio 4 rural drama has been going for something like 70 years now, and it always seems to be on whenever I tire of music and switch channels for a bit of spoken word stuff. I’m no great follower of The Archers, although I know some people who are lifelong devotees, gripped by every twist and turn of the lives of Ambridge’s fictional inhabitants. That said, I do like listening to it every now and then, and the gently shocking plot lines – some outsider with big ideas wants to take over the pig farm, the owner of the pub is having an affair, and so on – have a strangely calming and mesmerising quality. Indeed, when we turned on The Archers in the car the other day, our normally rambunctious children fell into a rapt silence, oddly hypnotised by these quaint slices of rural strife.
I mention this because The Magnificent Trufflepigs strongly reminded me of The Archers. For a while, I thought I even recognised the voices of the two main actors – Luci Fish and Arthur Darvill – from the show. I was mistaken, they’ve never taken on the Ambridge mantle, but I almost felt like I’ve known their voices for years, which is surely the sign of good voice acting, not to mention a firm script. The bucolic setting of the game, coupled with some gentle intrigue and the soft northern burr of the protagonists, immediately put me in mind of Sundays doing odd jobs around the house while Radio 4 weaves rural tales in the background.
Everything about The Magnificent Trufflepigs is gentle. Its chosen theme – the oft-derided pastime of metal detecting – is perhaps the most gentle pursuit it’s possible to dramatise in a video game, involving as it does walking slowly around a field while wafting a stick until it goes beep. And the plot is similarly soft – the sole aim being to find a valuable earring that Beth is convinced is hidden somewhere on a farm which is soon to be redeveloped as a solar power station. She drafts in her friend Adam to help her look for it, and there follows a week spent waving sticks and chatting.
There’s more to it, of course. Playing as Adam, each time you find an object you’ll call Beth to tell her about it, which is usually followed by some reminiscences about their past in the village or discussions about Beth’s future. She’s having trouble with her fiancé Jake, as well as problems at work, and really it’s this that forms the crux of the game. Finding out more about Beth, and listening to her face her problems, is the main carrot that draws you on. There’s also a twist towards the end which rounds things out nicely – then again, it’s one I’ve seen a few times before. Still, the main thrust of The Magnificent Trufflepigs is a mixture of personal issues and nostalgia, so it’s little wonder I had The Archers in mind all the while.
I’ll admit I found the game pretty dull at first. As Adam, your job is simply to walk very, very slowly across a field until your metal detector goes beep, at which point it’s time to whip out your shovel. That initial ecstatic electronic shriek generates a bubble of curiosity and excitement, which is popped immediately around 90% of the time, as the treasure you uncover turns out to be a bottle cap, or a fork, or a rusty screw. It’s here where it feels like The Magnificent Trufflepigs hews a bit too closely to the true life world of metal detecting – the reality is that most of what detectorists find is simply junk rather than Anglo Saxon gold hoards. But there’s no reason why this reality has to be so closely reflected in the game world. A few more interesting finds – or finds that link up to help solve a mystery – would have been a welcome addition. There is a mystery to be solved in a sense, although it’s linked only tangentially with the objects you find.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs did grow on me after a while though. By the halfway mark I found myself drawn in by Beth’s troubles, and I took to playing podcasts in the background to ease the tedium of the detecting itself. It helps that the game doesn’t outstay its welcome, either – you can finish the whole thing in under three hours. But I do feel like it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity in a way. Metal detecting could be so much more thrilling in the video game world – perhaps you could gather clues from around the environment to suss out where a treasure might be buried, then focus your hunt on a certain patch. Perhaps the things you find could shed light on bigger stories and unlock other avenues – maybe literally if you find a key to a locked door. I’m convinced that there’s an utterly fantastic, compelling game to be made about metal detecting – and The Magnificent Trufflepigs isn’t quite it. Still, it remains a thoroughly pleasant way to spend a few hours – much like listening to the Archers omnibus on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs was developed by Thunkd, and it’s available on PC and Switch. We played the PC version.
Disclosure statement: review code for The Magnificent Trufflepigs was provided by Evolve PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.