There is something to admire when a title is made by one guy alone in his free time, whether it turns out big or small. It has almost become a trend for single people to achieve their dreams no matter what and I am happy we live in a time where more and more people can share their creativity easier, and Mattis Folkestad is one of those lucky people. He worked a full-time job and made this title, Milkmaid, which took him two years to produce, though it definitely was worth the time it took. In fact, Milkmaid actually won a couple of awards, such as Spillmessen’s game of the year and game of the year small-screen. I have never heard of it before, but after dealing with other frustrating games for reviews, I decided to tackle this title alongside with my significant other. When the credits rolled, I started writing this review with a smile on my face. At 1 AM I might add.
More than the simple life
Up in the mountains that are reminiscent of a Scandinavian version of The Sound of Music’s opening, we meet Ruth, a young girl who is spending her vacation from school on a small farm, doing chores for a living such as making butter and cheese to be sold at the market. While it seems like a normal life at first, when her cow named Lykke (meaning luck) disappears, she realizes there is more to the universe than what she first knew. This is a short tale, so I can’t tell more about this story without going into the spoiler-territory, but what I will say is that it is filled with charm. Ruth is a competent girl trying to do her best on the small farm, and this provides a lovely atmosphere about the simple life, with a wonderful contrast when she starts on her bizarre journey. Not to mention, whether you play this game in French, Norwegian, or English, everything is written in rhyme, which is adorable and fitting for an old fairytale for children.
It is a short tale, but works lovely to provide a beginning, middle, and end, with exciting events unfolding. It feels like the first part of a book series, meaning there is more that can be explored, but is conclusive enough to feel fulfilling with interesting characters to meet throughout the journey. I do also enjoy her diary where she tells about her past, though it is more for insight into why she is on the farm, rather than anything that ties into the main plot. It is certainly a side-element and hidden slightly away, but more could have been done when this backstory was included, such as tying it into the main-plot better. Nonetheless, just like a bedtime-story, it might be short, but you’ll be happy with the story, characters and overall journey it took you on.
Story Score: 8.5/10
Essential point and click
Being a game about adventure, Milkmaid takes on a simple version of the point and click-genre, where you have a simple inventory and walk wherever you want to by pointing and clicking. It is very traditional, since you have to explore for items, maybe put them in your inventory and find their uses for furthering the game. The puzzles are logical though challenging enough to make you ponder on how to solve an issue, and looking at objects will provide a clear description and subtle hints on what to do, such as your diary holding recipes for how to make cheese.
It is simple and does not even give you the ability to combine items, but is effective to make you think and, while it is short, the limitations in areas you visit throughout for each segment helps neglect backtracking and aimless searching. You should always be able to see what you can interact with, and a helpful cursor will pulse if you can interact with an object, person, or leave a screen to get to another area. Not to mention, Ruth runs incredibly fast whenever you double-click, making it easy to get from one area to the next.
In the one and a half to two hours playtime, there is always a focus on providing good puzzles, even if it falls in the category of simply finding the right item and place it in the right spot, within a limited area. Similar to an actual jigsaw-puzzle in a sense. The only real issue I can think of might be the optional dialogue, as they don’t further the plot in an interesting game and only the last fight has interesting use for this. However, they are clearly there for providing an atmosphere and have slightly different conversations. Due to being so short, Milkmaid’s puzzles never go far with its concept and simply stay entertaining, with some creativity towards the end to mix up the concept. Still, that does not change the fact that Milkmaid is a solid and entertaining point and click that has good puzzles to provide and never gets stale. It just plays it safe.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
Simplicity and effectiveness
Pixel-art is a common trope to use for playing on your nostalgia-strings, but Milkmaid uses it for providing a clear charm and visualizes its simple approach in a direct manner that ties in with the story and gameplay. The artstyle is adorable, with lovely simple touches, such as the “stone-grave” on the top of a mountain in the far distance, parallax-scrolling with clouds in the background, and the diverse amount of animations the characters have. The big pixelart translates well also to both the PC and phone for providing nice and clear designs. I was impressed to find out the backgrounds were hand-painted, as they fit perfectly in with the rest of the artstyle.
I also adore the music using simple instruments for each scenario, like only a piano or a guitar, signifying the simple approach. All tracks are diverse, long, intriguing and lovely with clear rhythms to be memorable and atmospheric. They are also culturally appropriate for its setting in Norway in the 1920’s, which is an impressive detail. There is a good amount of tracks in this game with each having a huge amount of quality and variation. However, both the music and visuals, in the beginning, contrasts with the later portion which is abstract, and different from the farm-life Ruth knows. This again is lovely done with the presentation due to using more metallic visuals and electronic instruments, showcasing that art is more than just in its style, but also in its progression. I just wish the northern lights were more pixelated to be fitting in with the rest of the game, but maybe due to the title, it was an artistic choice to make it really out of this world.
Presentation Score: 9/10
This is why being simple can be fantastic. Milkmaid does not try to be more than what it is and goes with its concept so well all around, it is a perfect match. It surely could have used more creativity in puzzles, instead of them feeling like items for finding perfect use, but it is such a nitpick when it still provides challenge and intriguing exploration. Combined with a cute fairytale in rhyme and visuals that are fantastic and more than just nostalgia-pleasing, it is an adorable tale none should be without. It is simply sweet.