Ever had a game that left you with tons of frustrations and questions, yet no impact to the point that you had a hard time even venting about it? This is what I feel about the second commercialised title from the studio behind Fran Bow, as what I hoped for being another dark and interesting tale through mental difficulties, turned instead into a slow walk with a child I wish I could care for. Despite putting my expectations aside, I cannot say this was really a worthwhile stroll. Allow me to explain why.
Are we there yet?!
Meet Little Misfortune, a young girl who comes from a troubled home where she is neglected by her struggling parents. In order to compensate this, she uses her imagination and sparkles, which is a nice and understandable approach. Through this small introduction, the narrator tells the player that she is actually going to die today. Quickly changing the subject when Little Misfortune hears him, the narrator (eventually dubbed “Mr. Voice”) suggests that they play a game together. Simply reach the end of it, and she will gain eternal happiness. This game will start the moment she leaves her house.
Regrettably, the story goes nowhere from here on out. The little protagonist will witness more of the life outside of her small home that are both positive and negative, and this could certainly make for a rather entertaining journey than a symbolic or an enlightening one. However, with how much this title lingers on surreal elements, there is clearly something it wishes to tell. Ideas such as how every adult wears a creepy happy mask to hide their sadness, are in plenty and provide an unnerving undertone throughout. Unfortunately, nothing reflects Little Misfortune herself or the overall plot. Whenever it does, it is either something minor or already established, making it all come off as shallow.
In fact, you can cut everything in the middle section out, as the end only relates to the beginning of this long walk. Despite that you are offered choices and the game itself states that every single one will provide a consequence, this is barely true. All they amount to are minimal changes to the dialogues or cutscenes. None of them adds to the story and you will venture further as nothing significant happened. Should one decision actually affect the possibility of a later outcome, it is severely underplayed and just shrugged off. With how linear the plot is with no strong arc to it, this inclusion highlights of bland this adventure is.
This poor storytelling is also damaged by inconsistency. The two main characters will talk in English with some spurs being in Swedish and even signs will be in either languages. It is understandable that the developers wanted to convey that you are in Sweden while using English to make sure everyone understands what is going on, but when this is done with no logical setup, it takes you out of the immersion. This might sound like a nitpick, but there is really nothing worthwhile occurring in this playthrough, leaving me to easily focus on such details instead. I will give Little Misfortune that everything feels authentic to the year of 1993, with traditional houses, nostalgic fashion, and even the available technology at the time, helping to establish a clear setting and culture.
Sadly, with unfulfilling symbolism and any good atmosphere being thrown out the window, there is little of value to go by here. The only thing I can truly praise this trip for, is that its setup had potentials. Having a naive and sweet child travelling with a guardian who has questionable motives, sounds like a recipe for a dark tale. However, while I do enjoy both of their personalities, they are limited by not being a focus or having intriguing banters. In the end; this narrative title has nothing to tell, yet lasts for two and a half hours. Why?
Story Score: 2/10
One way ticket
Walking simulator is a controversial genre for me, but not because I do not have faith in it to create substantial projects. I am simply against pitiful forms or the complete lack of interactivity, as any kind of game should require meaningful inputs from the player that are more than the equivalent of holding down the play button on a remote. When developed with care, titles utilising this concept can provide exciting explorations, interesting setups or clever ways to tell a story that do not rely on cutscenes.
Despite that limitations can also create fascinating outcomes, Little Misfortune‘s take on a 2D walking simulator is hard to justify. You can only walk, run or skip in two directions, and interact with objects whenever the icon of an eye appears. This is it and everything else you do is automated, making this stroll downright shallow. There is literally nothing else to speak of in terms of mechanics, with the puzzles being more about you making choices than testing your logical thinking. It does not exactly help when the items for solving them simply appear nearby for your convenience. There is one exception towards the end, but this puzzle is easily solved within seconds.
Besides walking in one direction, you will also have to make decisions between two options constantly. They can revolve around answering questions Mr. Voice asks or choose a course of action. As mentioned; none of these offer interesting results and the story ends the same way with minimal diversion in your journey. The developers tried to add in some form of diversity outside of the puzzles, such as a QTE sequence and a shooting segment, but all of the sidetracks were barely present. Variety in a game can make for some nice breathers, but with no depth or length to them, it is confusing why the team even bothered including them.
This is actually the best way to sum up my feelings for this experience: why bother? Little Misfortune can be beaten in about two and a half hours as stated above, and there is nothing more here than what navigating through a DVD menu can give. It is short and uninspiring as an interactive title, due to no form of immersion or challenge provided. This is really one of those games that makes you throw your arms up, look into the mirror, and ask why you wasted your time on this. Sadly, with no response.
Gameplay Score: 1/10
That was a nice stroll
What was clearly borrowed from Fran Bow, was its art style. Back are the puppet animations, strong colours, and caricaturist designs, but with minor twists both through technical and cultural aspects. This is a smart way for making these two titles only share the world they are a part of and be easy to distinguish between. With impressive shades to mimic effects of lighting and fitting alterations to the artwork, Little Misfortune is pleasing to look at.
I love how everything reminisces of the Scandinavian suburban neighbourhood and nature, while throwing its own spin on it to give it all an uncanny valley atmosphere! Strange posters, the uncomfortable masks, and more focus on orange to give this land a Halloween tone, all paints a nice picture of what kind of place you are in. This is further enhanced by the diverse locations you will visit, such as the trashed house by a lake or the busy amusement park. Not to mention, the characters, creatures, and supernatural elements, are also bizarre and fit this universe. There is a bird that flips you off, a dog with disturbing eyes, and Little Misfortune herself has ragged hair and worn clothes. Everything here adds to this game’s dark setting.
What is odd then, is how the cutscenes have clearly better quality and go over the top with their surrealism, making them clash with the in-game’s presentation and calm tone. This can be especially seen with the first one that even has rock music and a snarky Misfortune who begins to fly in it. I am not sure what the mindset behind this was, as it is a big contrast to the rest of the adventure. The lip syncing does not help either, as while I do admire how this project keeps to its puppet animation, it is severely off and does not match the voices in the slightest.
Speaking of, the two main actors could not be more different to each other. Mr. Voice has a formal and grim tone that makes him sound both sincere and terrifying, leaving you to question his motives. His performance is always on the spot with perfect deliveries and directions. Unfortunately, Little Misfortune is the complete opposite. Her actor sounds like a parody of an Italian girl, with a muffled voice that can make her hard to understand. It really does not sound like a kid, but someone trying to act like one with a comedic undertone. The rest of the cast are just forgettable, since they barely have a line each.
Isac J. Martinson returns from Fran Bow to compose for this title, with his work having a similar vibe to his previous one. Both soundtracks consist of dark and echoed tones with wonderful buildups, creating a sorrowful, yet comfortable atmosphere for Little Misfortune. A form of solace, if you will. Although, there are some interesting choices here, as this game steps away from the haunted tracks made with real instruments and jumps to strange electronic scores that are mundane, for example. These changes feel like harsh contrasts to the overall style with no purpose, similar to the cutscenes. Despite how strong the tone is in both the audio and visuals, this is a showcase for how much small deviations can take you out of the experience.
Presentation Score: 6.5/10
Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle!
Throughout Little Misfortune’s journey, you can sparkle elements that are depressive or uncomfortable in order to make them seem more joyful, which is a cute way to show how her imagination works to comfort her. Sadly, this only amounts to one extra button to click every now and then on a linear plane, making it hard to care about this monotone mechanism. The only reward you get is a cutscene at the end that adds nothing significant to the story, turning this into a worthless form of replay value.
Extra Score: 1/10
I do not mind at all that Little Misfortune stepped away from Fran Bow. It is just a shame that the direction it took, made for a slow and boring trip. No interesting or immersive form of interactivity with a shallow story that is not effected by the choices you make, cannot be saved by solid presentation that also falters at times. This barely qualifies as a game, and even when looked upon as a movie, it is a bland experience. Yikes forever indeed, little miss.