Sometimes, when I play point and click adventures, I find them a bit too samey. Too frequently they have a murder mystery vibe, which is a safe bet, but an uninspiring one. Games that venture a little further out there, throw in a few science fiction concepts, are few and far between, and that’s disappointing. Some of my favourite games are where science fiction meets detective games, and there do seem to be more coming out of the woodwork lately. Last month there was The Red Strings Club, and this month we have a game from Poland – Earthworms.
Surreal, in a good way
Playing through a point and click adventure, I like being able to mill around a bit, see what I can interact with and pick up. Explore the areas and try to come to some idea of what’s going on in the world. Although there aren’t too many areas in Earthworms, I was still able to do this to a pretty enjoyable degree. There’s a lot of fun little things to interact with and some really good humour spread throughout the world, even in the bleak and confusing time that we find ourselves in, in the game. The puzzles are also decent as well, with none being too mentally taxing that you’re rubbing every item on everything in some hope that it will work, but they still need a good bit of thought put into them, so it’s not a cakewalk either. The developers also utilise the red herring object so well. A red herring object is, if you didn’t know, an object that you can pick up and will not serve any real purpose. It’s just there to pad out your inventory, or to confuse you later down the line. It’s a brilliant little item, and does make you really pause for thought, in case you forgot something.
All Those Moments – the developer – pushed the presentation of Earthworms as their unique selling point. Every character and background, every object, being hand drawn and, in a game of this size, that’s quite remarkable. It’s all the more remarkable in that it’s actually decent. Although the walking animations are a little suspect, everything else is genuinely gorgeous while still remaining somewhat bland. I don’t mean that in a bad way either – being bland, in this case at least, isn’t a negative thing. It adds to the whole atmosphere of the game, especially the island of Dar, which is largely a featureless, unpopulated holiday destination and the art style really brings that out. There’s also the soundtrack to the game which adds such a creepy vibe to the game. It’s very understated, and doesn’t really make too big a deal of itself, but when it comes out, it really adds to the experience.
The story in Earthworms deserves it’s own little bit of praise as well. It may be short, but there’s a lot of incredible ideas thrown at you as you play through it. It has a lot of twists and turns to it as well, so you’re always guessing as to how the game will end. There are a couple of jarring mistranslations, but everything is generally really well written. Interactions with people are funny and, at some points, bizarre, but they are constant and feels somewhat realistic, despite the strange circumstances in which you meet.
There was a reason I mentioned The Red Strings Club at the start of the review. Earthworms shares more than just a sci-fi theme with The Red Strings Club, although Earthworms goes more surrealist than cyberpunk. The other main similarity is that it ends too soon. Although I do feel like the story ‘completes’, and there are three different endings, but it is over far too quickly. All being said, you can see the game – all three endings – in probably around four hours, which is quite disappointing for such an interestingly thought out world. Based on the game, it would be fairly tricky to think of areas to pad it out a bit, but there are definite areas that would benefit from a bit of expansion, especially towards the end of the game. You never really learn much about your main character – how, or why he has his visions, other than a short intro blurb at the start. There’s very little information about some of the people on the island, and the man who gave you the case – what’s his connection to it all? The developers do wrap up the majority of the story pretty well by the end of the game, but I really wanted to delve deeper into everything.
One thing that really wound me up though is what you can see in the image above. An empty to-do list. It happens quite regularly, although everything you do is allegedly written down and entered into that pad. If, at any point, you get stuck or confused about what to do in a game, you’re usually able to get some information from your notepad to see what you’ve got to do. In Earthworms, that’s not the case. If you can’t remember something, you have to rub every item on everything, interact with every person, object or item in order to try to get some clue about what you have to do.
The Final Word
One area of fiction that is very well known for short stories is science fiction. All the greatest sci-fi writers penned numerous excellent short stories and to me, Earthworms is All Those Moments’ first foray into the genre, just using a video game as their medium. It’s a game that I left wanting more, and isn’t that what every developer – and author – wants from their audience? There’s obviously some polish that needs to be added, and a few bits of extra work to fix some minor imperfections, but it’s a really solid title.