Old Man's Journey (2017)
Developer: Broken Rules
Old Man's Journey has been on my wishlist for a while, but it stuck out to me when I happened to see Guillermo del Toro, award-winning Mexican director, tweet about how much he enjoyed this game. It's not often you see big names in other industries, even film, talk about indie games, so that really stood out to me. I picked up Old Man's Journey on sale and was prepared for a short, artistic experience. Old Man's Journey is a point-and-click adventure game where you alter your environment in order to travel forward.
I usually prefer to buy games on my Switch when there's a choice between Switch and PC, so I quickly scooped up this game when there was a good sale in the Nintendo E-shop. However, I wish I had done a little research first - I didn't realize Old Man's Journey was a point-and-click game. It's pretty well-optimized for the Switch, you used a big cursor hand to move and interact with items around you, as well as to pick the location you'll walk to. However, as well done as it is, it still feels odd and a little slow and I do wish I'd played it with a mouse instead.
Old Man's Journey can be described most as a solitary, soul-searching adventure. If you've ever traveled alone, this feeling this game evokes will be very familiar to you. I personally have, and there's a mix of emotions that comes with it. You feel very small and insignificant in the scope of this new place, but you also feel free and unrestricted, like every step you take you've discovered something new. Sometimes you even feel lost, in a way that feels overwhelming but not scary, because you finally have the time to just be where you are and take everything in. The setting of the game is never explicitly stated, but I think it's safe to assume it's supposed to be European countryside. The development team, Broken Rules, is based out Vienna, Austria, which happens to be the first place abroad I ever traveled to. I can speak from experience that Austria, especially Salzburg, has beautiful and seemingly endless mountains, much like the scenery in Old Man's Journey. The music fits beautifully, too, as it sounds both environmental and instrumental, reminiscent of folk music you might hear on such a travel.
Old Man's Journey really tested my patience and, in a good way, caused me to be a little less impulsive. In games, I tend to always push forward without planning the next steps. In order to move forward, a land mass must be connected to another land mass, yet you cannot move the one you are currently standing on. This means if you don't look ahead in where you need to go, you'll often need to backtrack in order to move things correctly. I do think you're meant to take it slow, take in the scenery, and plan how you can move to the next checkpoint using the resources you have - however, it took me a while to learn this. At times it was a little frustrating the way you were meant to move forward. For example, slipping down to the bottom of a waterfall is just part of the game, not a mistake you can make. It feels a little harsh - I didn't like to keep forcing this old man to slip and fall on his butt down into water. Sometimes you come upon obstacles that won't easily clear out of your way, like a flock of sheep. I thought I could just walk through them, clicking on them to get out of my way, but that ended up getting me stuck within their angry mob for a while. The video below shows only a clip of a frustrating couple minutes I had once I made the mistake of moving forward before I moved the sheep.
Old Man's Journey plays with foregrounds and layers in a very interesting way. It doesn't matter if a land mass is very close in the foreground (so close it blocks part of the screen), if you can get its boundary to connect to a landmass far in the background, you can travel between those two planes. This world is malleable and somewhat fantastical, despite the fact that this journey feels like a real-world adventure in the world we know. At times, it becomes even a little surreal, making you question whether the journey is purely external or if the protagonist is also undergoing a more abstract, internal journey as well.
This journey that the protagonist is on is silent, there's never any actual dialogue that we can see or hear, only infer. Yet, he pays attention the people on his path, and is often spurred into his memories by people-watching. The memories are most often told simply through one illustration or a short animation, chronologically filling us in to the story of his long life. The very specific stylized art in Old Man's Journey is colorful and picture book-like all throughout, but it especially shines in these memory illustrations. Through this travel into his memories, you discover that the old man has experienced love and happiness; and yet, he now carries a heavy burden of regret.
Despite controlling the "old man" in Old Man's Journey, you actually don't know exactly where he's journeying to until the very end. I was surprised to reach a very emotional ending that moved me to tears. However, it wasn't the more typical "tragic" ending, which I feel like is often an easier way to tug at people's emotions - I won't say much more than that, but it was emotional in a conclusive, positive way.
If you're interested in an artistic, hand-drawn, and solitary experience in a game, Old Man's Journey feels just right. I do recommend picking it up on PC, however; the point-and-click experience is just a better fit for it. At times the controls and gameplay can feel a little slow and limiting, especially without any sort of instruction or rules being given, but it forces you slow down and practice patience. It's a game that captures the feeling of traveling alone, through beautiful landscapes and colorful cities, all from the comfort of your home.
Old Man's Journey is available on PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One, App Store, and Google Play Store.
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Playtime: 2.5 hrs