Videogames are a generational thing, and while my 60s something dad will give me a go on Borderlands now and then, you don’t really get many of the older folk playing them, unfortunately. Let’s turn that around then, and have a geriatric as the lead in Old Man’s Journey, Broken Rules.
Old Man’s Journey is the definition of charm. You play the old man of the title who has just received a letter in the mail that is the catalyst for this particular adventure. From your home on the cliffside, you make your way through the countryside, mountainous terrain, hop on to the back of a pickup truck, train and even fishing boats. It’s not apparent where he’s heading, but each time you get to a particular landmark, usually a bench, it will trigger a memory that eventually pieces together the path leading to his fate.
Every once or so often a game like this comes along that evokes so many feelings. It’s like playing a storybook as the illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, but they come alive as you manipulate the very many landscapes throughout. The only real difference in terms of the storybook comparison is the lack of any narration or text to read. Old Man’s Journey is a linear piece, told visually through the very many flashbacks and to some extent, it does play on the heartstrings a little with the tale and also the accompanying soundtrack.
Taking control of the old man isn’t a case of moving him left, right and jumping over obstacles. Instead, you can directly handle the various terrain and paths that he has to cross, simply by dragging them up and down with the joysticks or with the touchscreen. Bear in mind that the paths have to line up correctly, i.e. the paths need to intersect so that he can jump onto the next. Interacting with each section is simple enough, but you can’t adjust the path that he is already standing on. In this case, the puzzle aspect of the game kicks in and there are a few areas where you jump back and forth, dragging your paths accordingly.
Old Man’s Journey really is a walk in the park (almost literally) as you can finish this within an hour or two. I split it between two nights as I got to the stage where I felt like it was a bit of a chore to finish and I wasn’t really experiencing the game as much as I should have been. There was no rush to finish it, but when I went to the exit the game, realised that I was near completion.
Each section is made of a scene that plays on depth of field as the puzzles make the most of front, mid and background assets. Progressing through some of the later levels will change the perspective a little as the camera will pan up or down, forcing the path your previously laid out to go out of sync. It’s not remotely hard however, and there was probably about one or two moments where I couldn’t work out how to solve it. The time I spent on the more challenging sections? 10 minutes tops. It really is easy, but it’s not about the challenge, more so the experience and underlying narrative it displays.
I bought this a few months ago, and like many of the First Impressions posts I do, it was one of those titles that sat on my SD card without loading it up, let alone finishing it. Over the Christmas period, I had a few moments of downtime, so it was only natural to go back and play through the backlog. Once I realised that Old Man’s Journey is a short title, I felt compelled to finish to say it was done, but have to admit, I wanted to finish it as determined to see the old man’s fate. In the time that I have been playing adventure-type games, I don’t recall anything like Old Man’s Journey. Sure, there are other puzzle titles on the Switch that are quite unique and have a compelling visual approach – The Bridge comes to mind – but this game was different and was and quite unique.
With conventional point and click adventures (Old Man’s Journey is arguably a point and click, even if it lacks an inventory and dialogue), the greatest rewards are the stories, narrative, problem-solving and with some of the current generation titles, the achievements you unlock. Old Man’s Journey ticks some of the main boxes – we become invested enough in his story to see it through to the end, the problem-solving, while very easy, is satisfying as you continually make progress. The narrative, while not entirely new, is novel enough where you care about the main character, and that’s a plus in my books. However, once you finish the game, that’s it – no extras or incentives to play through again.
Once you know the story and the outcome, would you play Old Man’s Journey again? Well, after finishing and literally riding through the end credits, it takes you back to the level select should you wish to repeat a level again. There are no other options or unlockables, nor are there any in-game achievements, so the chances of replaying this are a little limited. Sure you can complete it again in one sitting, but would you want to? Yes. Old Man’s Journey is a beautiful game and a delight to experience. Even though it’s relatively short, I wouldn’t want to play it again immediately, but I don’t doubt for a moment that I’ll be playing this again, even if it’s to showcase the presentation.
I’ve since seen that the soundtrack is supposedly a big deal as it’s composed by Scntfc. It certainly creates the mood, and I doubt there would be any other score that could complement the style so much; however, the highlight of Old Man’s Journey for me is not the innovative terrain manipulation but the visuals. If I were to compare the style to anyone in particular, it would be Pascal Campion. Not familiar with the French-American artist, then have a look at his website, and you might be able to see the likeness in colour and character design.