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Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Review: Old Man's Journey

Review: Old Man's Journey

The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched, they must be felt with the heart.

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Old Man's Journey
Broken Rules | Nintendo Switch | Digital Only
1-2 Players (Local Only)
Reviewed by: Curtis Chapman | 20th February 2018

Developers Commentary by: Clemens Scott - Broken Rules

* Review Code Provided by: Broken Rules *

Nintendo Play is joined by Clements Scott, creative director and lead artist of Broken Rules, for the included Developers Commentary.

Take a walk on orderly side with an old man in tow, in Broken Rules’ release of their critically acclaimed puzzle-story Old Man’s Journey. Landing on the eShop today for the tidy sum of £8.99, Will you brave the great outdoors or stay just inside and play games?

With a selection of films like The Notebook, Coco, The Bucket List and Up, cinema has always done a wonderful job at portraying the elderly. More specifically, it has managed time and time again to uniquely find ways of emotionally attaching us to them, feeling their highs and lows as if they were our own, tugging at our heart-strings whether it’s over a love shared or a love lost. Age has always been an effective framing device, getting the viewer to question their mortality and, in the end, ponder the importance of what really matters.

The team at Broken Rules share this magical ability in their telling of an Old Man’s Journey. Going one step further by gradually connecting the player to the main character without the use of any text, speech or discernable storyline, the game relies solely on empathy, intrigue and a unique need to further understand the plight of the old man to drive their game forward.

Developers Commentary
Clemens: The main reason we chose a wordless narrative was to make the game as accessible as possible to a wide audience. It demanded a focus on the core elements of the story, making sure that complex emotional issues could be communicated with as little barrier as possible.

Old Mans Journey Screenshot 1

Wandering dangerously close into the realm of interactive story, Old Man’s Journey markets itself as a puzzle-driven story game all about life’s precious moments, broken dreams and changed plans. With only an unexplained letter from the postman as a precursor, the old man sets off from his home with just a backpack and a walking stick, leaving the player to blindly lead the old man across rolling vistas and raging seas.

Old Man’s Journey continues its likeness to a movie by being a dangerously short game, with on average 1.5 – 2 hours total play time and no reason to repeat until enough time has passed that you’re ready to experience its charm once more. The game itself is split into 15 short selectable sections for the time-strapped, though even they will be finished with the title fairly quickly. That being said, while it may be a short game, it’s a perfectly lengthened piece of interactive storytelling.

Developers Commentary
Clemens: Old Man’s Journey was always intended as a short game with 15 levels and 90 minutes of play time. We wanted to deliver the highest possible production values, while still staying considerate with the size of our team, budget and timeframe. Furthermore the qualitative gain of the overall experience wouldn’t stand in relation to the effort that more content would have demanded..

The hand-painted visuals are absolutely amazing with great attention to detail paid in every aspect. Even though the game contains no dialog, the old man possesses a wide range of subtle visual emotions that go a long way in creating that level of empathy necessary for the story to effectively play out. The game contains unique music throughout its entirety, with each one perfectly complements its environment while providing a sense of peacefulness to accompany the old man on his travels.

While traveling you are able to interact with the many layers that make up the background and foreground of the game. Pushing and pulling the various hills, cliffs and outcroppings allow you to line up the edges of the elements background scenery with the piece you are currently standing on, allowing the old man to jump between them. This makes up, almost fully, the game portion of Old Man’s Journey.

Developers Commentary
Clemens: Every part of Old Man’s Journey was built with intention and the core mechanic is no exception. We aimed for puzzles that are always interesting, but never frustrating. However, the overall experience always had the highest priority, and like many other elements, the puzzle mechanic was a vehicle to deliver this experience.

Old Man's Journey Screenshot 2

Actual puzzles in the game are extremely light on the ground which, strangely, is not a bad thing at all. Occasionally a new element is thrown into the mix but once you’ve cracked it the solution to any similar puzzles become almost immediately identifiable. It is clear that the game never really wants to outsmart or frustrate you though by keeping the puzzles simple and easy to solve, with them never taking more than a minute to figure out how to continue. It’s a unique approach that, as the game progresses, finds you more interested in how the story will unfold next than anything else, with any puzzles you encounter becoming so secondary and inconsequential that you’ll be glad you can quickly progress to help the old man on his way and find out what happens next.

While the game does support it, there really isn’t any need to use the games controller input unless playing in Docked Mode. The touchscreen controls are far more intuitive and there is the occasional time where circular motions are required that, when attempted with the controller, is simply both cumbersome and impractical.

Developers Commentary
Clemens: Old Man’s Journey was primarily designed for mobile devices using the simplest form of input: a single touch. Bringing the game to the Switch demanded a controller adaptation, as it is the native interface of consoles.

Besides the titles length, the only other slight disappointment is found in the game's conclusion. For a title placing so much stock in the emotional attachment that is formed with the old man, the ending of the game just does not add up to the emotional sum of its parts. While in no way is the ending of the Man’s Journey a bad one, it simply feels a little rushed, with a trip of reflection ending simply with a conclusion to the story, rather than the tear-jerking moments of self-realisation that the game had felt like it had been building up to for an hour and a half.

Developers Commentary
Clemens: Narratively, the purpose of the ending was to combine the present of the game world with the past of the memory cutscenes. As such, the choice of using in-game visuals was the right call.

Emotionally, we wanted the game to offer closure for the players - neither going for a super happy ending nor leaving anyone depressed. It works for most people, but it surely is a very subjective experience. .

Old Man's Journey Screenshot 3

Old Man’s Journey is a heart warming and genuinely beautiful tale that, while it lasts, does a fantastic job at extracting emotion and creating a bond with the games lead character. Those who equate a games monetary value to its playtime may shy away from this one, but for everyone else, you’re in for a real treat.

Many thanks to Clemens for his discussion during this review.


+ Beautiful art and music.
+ Emotive storytelling.
+ Intuitive touch controls .

- Just too short.
- Ending falls a little flat.

Verdict: Nearly There – Highly Recommended

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