December is a busy time for me, which I imagine it can be for a lot of people. Because of this, I do end up missing out on titles that I would have loved to get insights on, such as today’s subject. If it was not for the developers of Brok: The Investigator tweeting about it being on sale, I might have overlooked it completely. Seeing as I also had a blast with that game, I took their word for this one being good too and instantly bought it.
After an intro showcasing the sacred library tree burning as owls watch in distress, the story cuts to 500 years later when a roebuck named Finn is off to a celebration and reuniting with his parents. Tragically, they are nowhere to be found and their home is in shambles. With strange ginormous creatures and wolves being pointed out as the cause of recent disturbances by locals, the young lad sets out to rescue his mom and dad at any cost.
It is easy to see early on that this tale is mainly meant for a younger audience, particularly with the obvious bad guys who are affected by a history of fear, which is fine. Racism and issues of industrial revolutions are some key thematics throughout, with neither being forcefully implemented nor poorly explored. I also wish to commend this title for showcasing how it is important to see things from other perspectives in order to fully grasp problems and find a way to make the world a better place for everyone.
Regrettably, the plot is too minimalistic to give the journey any weight. Even when lore is presented or you have to fulfil specific tasks to get further, everything is simple and straightforward, with the events in between being mediocre at best. Despite seeing how cruel the wolves can be or witnessing your sweet friends losing all hope, these moments are quickly over and do not offer a continuous presence.
That being said, I do find the various anthropomorphic animals charming. Be it the magpie bathing in her own riches of shinies or the drunk walrus sailor talking nonsense, all are enjoyable to interact with despite their small personalities. This includes Finn, as he fits the role of the wisecracking but uplifting hero well. In turn, this also extends to his comments about the environment and people that can provide funny or interesting information. Even the rest of the cast can remark on your action, such as how silly it is to give a racoon torch due to his darkvision.
Not all jokes land sadly, such as blatant puns or dated terms. While this could be argued for being about taste, the comedy goes all over the place. For example, there is one neat discussion about evolution versus nostalgia that hints at this game’s development, but the statement of Nine Inch Wales possibly playing mediaeval music is frankly off. In fact, a big problem that destroys this immersion is that it is hard to put an epoch in where you are. Characters mix between wearing clothes from the 1200s to modern and even uttering 90s quotes like tubular for no real reason.
Unfortunately, this lack of a distinct tone is constant throughout this adventure. This extends to making scenes void of any natural progression from one to the other, such as awkward humour transitioning suddenly into moments of despair. Not to mention, this short journey tries to seem grand with a magical island and foreboding past, but neither gets to leave any strong impact because of their minimal presence.
Additionally, who are good and bad characters are blatant, with the lesson towards the two possible conclusions to get being easy to see coming. I will reiterate that this is likely for kids, yet with the exposition of lore at an uneven rate, it can be draining for anyone to listen to. There is undoubtedly a charm here and some jokes are worth a chuckle, but it is hard to get sucked into this world with unclear atmosphere and underwhelming comedy.
Story Score: 4/10
Set as a traditional point-and-click, Beyond The Edge of Owlsgard will have you clicking around for movement and selecting between nine verbs to perform an action. These are relegated to give, open, close, pick up, look at, talk to, use, push, and pull, with the inventory for knickknacks taken being located next to them. Admittedly, this could come off as too many steps to endure, but this title is smarter with its setup than one would think.
Despite that you do not have hotkeys for these forms of interaction, the left and right mouse buttons will give you two of the most common options. With the number of things to examine, this is a nice way to streamline the exploration while making sure you are paying attention. As an example, it might be hard to see that a machine has a hatchet to unlock, but studying them will give clear descriptions about this to aid you!
Furthermore, you are quickly showcased that having keen eyes and ears is important, which is not uncommon for this genre. There are occasional foreground decorations that can hold significant knickknacks with no indication of it, though this annoyance is thankfully rare. Additionally, you do have two difficulty modes to choose from in the form of Classic and Modern, with the latter making obstructed materials more apparent and timed brainteasers more forgiving.
However, there can be moments when you will be looking everywhere just to find one item, and it is here that the obscure enigmas turn into a giant problem. Even with distinct locations, you have to backtrack through multiple sites and look at petty details, which becomes tiresome. Yet the main issue this indie project suffers from is the puzzles themselves since they can be either creative, underwhelming, or obtuse.
The best ones have you combining tools you picked up for inventive solutions or tinkering with the environment in order to progress, such as making the wind go through a house to knock someone away. Sadly, there are just as many straightforward ones that merely need a key you will suddenly acquire or give you no indication of features present. Frankly, the difficulty has no adequate curve for teaching what the game expects from you. I say this, as the solutions are not always consistently logical or imaginative and can require excessive steps that are hard to indicate, like using a mattress for safe climbing.
I do not mind a challenge, but when it is uneven in support, structure, and even mindset, it can make for a tedious adventure. Which is a shame when there are great puzzles to solve. Although, there is another way Beyond The Edge of Owlsgard tries to bring some more tension; deadly scenarios. Whenever a floppy icon is present, you are encouraged to save, which you are luckily able to do at any time. This is because there are actions here that could result in an instant demise, forcing you to load a previous file.
Obviously, this is an attempt at fixing the random game overs of Sierra titles. Yet, this rather showcases how unnecessary these are in general since you are always warned beforehand. Because of this, it just adds a redundant step that could have been mitigated by your avatar commenting on not proceeding or stepping back from danger. The last of my criticisms revolves around an odd section where you have to click to move a boat through obstacles of floating rocks. It is clunky, dull, and can even be skipped, which I would not blame anyone for doing.
What a frustrating mix of brilliant and idiotic. I cannot say that I am happy to have played through this adventure due to the irritating retracing and inconsistent brainteasers that can be shallow or surreal. However, it also contains a fantastic focus on exploration and clever puzzles that did put a smile on my face, meaning that this is a case of suffering through the bad to get to the good. This makes it difficult to find out who could get the most out of this journey, but perhaps those who have the patience of a saint will.
Gameplay Score: 5/10
Sega CD throwback
Beyond The Edge Of Owlsgard truly makes the most out of its beautiful pixel art. Whether you are scouring the old medieval town, traversing through the cold mountains with wooden huts, or seeing machines taking over the world, there is a ton of areas to admire. The emphasising on searching every nook and cranny also makes it particularly easy to appreciate the diverse terrains and minor inclusions they hold.
Additionally; the backgrounds convey subtle and smooth animations, like the waves of the ocean or leafs falling from the trees, showcasing passion for this work. Even the walk cycles are unique to everyone, such as your owl companion’s wobbling or Finn’s galloping. Speaking of, the anthropomorphic animals are lovely created with strong facial expressions and features, making them all memorable. I could go on with the neat details, such as how the menu changes depending on if a naturalistic or industrial landscape is present, but this is a magnificent game to look at in terms of technology.
The overall style is hard to praise though. Because of the irregularity in periodic clothing and establishments, it becomes difficult to get a distinct tone. Not to mention, while there are a couple of unique societies and mystical ruins to encounter, all are rather familiar and make this universe forgettable. I will say that the cutscenes are gorgeous, whether they be small for highlighting minor events or grander ones with cinematic borders to emphasise drama. Even if I wish there could have been an option for widescreen, I suppose the 4:3 ratio is more appropriate for a nostalgic product.
Sadly, the audio fares much worse. Ambient ones of birds chirping or the wind blowing are immersive, yet those cues used to convey motions are excessively whimsical. These would have been fine for comedic setups, but also serious moments utilise them and thus destroy any tension they initially had. Even the voices are all over the place, with some completely overacting and others actually showcasing great directions.
It makes the styles clash and some could use a second recording, but there are also some that convey clear characteristics. This goes for both the English and German actors, which unfortunately made me consider turning their volumes off. As for the music, it mainly focuses on mediaeval tracks with some alterations to create distinct atmospheres for the various locations you will visit, such as tribal and industrial. Despite being effective and nice to listen to, they are not memorable due to being short and lacking diverse notes.
Presentation Score: 7/10
How all of this was primarily made by one person is no short of a miracle. The visuals are commendable, which can also be said for the better brainteasers and the emphasis on exploration. It is just a shame that this point-and-click can be uneven in tone, jokes, puzzles, and structure, with attempts at refining the genre being similarly rough. Because of this, it is hard to say who this title is for. I believe though those in for a nostalgic trip who are specifically fond of anthropomorphic worlds with a hint of childlike wonder will be pleased with this adventure. Regrettably, those who need a bit more should look elsewhere.