Earlier this year we had the chance to play and review They Breathe, a surprisingly haunting game about a frog’s journey to the bottom of a lake. For being such a short and simple game, They Breathe managed to stick with me since the day our review went up, due in part to its horrifying realizations in the final moments. A few weeks back, the team behind They Breathe released their newest title, Residue, which sports a similar art style, but is a far cry from the simplistic arcade-y feel of their first offering.
Residue is a story driven, non-combat, 2D adventure platformer, lasting about 2-3 hours and offering collectibles to hunt down that unlock concept art. It has the style and depth that you’d expect from a point-and-click adventure game, but the interactive adventures in Residue are handled in real time. It’s full of beautiful hand drawn environments and takes place in a dying part of the world that many here in the United States know little about, the Aral Sea.
If you’re not familiar with the Aral Sea, the short version is that its two feeding rivers were manually drained toward the end of the Cold War in an attempt to create a farming environment for Russia to grow cotton, among other things. It initially succeeded, but in the 1960’s the sea’s water began diverting to the land, thus ruining pretty much everything. What was once an area where fisherman thrived was now a shrinking wasteland that was eventually deemed “doomed” and used for biochemical weapons testing by the Soviet Union. Bits and pieces of the sea’s history is gone over in documentation found throughout the game, but you can read more about it here and here if you’re interested.
As Residue starts off, a two-person team fails to detonate a large explosive in an underground channel in the Aral Sea. The male half is sent up to safety, while the female seemingly drowns near the explosive’s detonation point. Taking control of the woman’s father and her child, you’ll platform and explore the desolate wasteland in search of her, but eventually run in to her male counterpart, adding a third member to your team. As the game plays on, you’ll flip flop between characters, even reliving the past in some segments, or following the ghosts of those who once worked among the rusted skeletons of the sea vessels.
It’s a bit like Lost Vikings or Trine, where each character serves their own purpose, but unlike those games, you don’t have the luxury of choosing who you have control over. Emilio, the child, is young and agile, giving him the ability to leap gaps, climb ropes, swim underwater, etc., where his grandfather’s aging body apparently limits him to doing little more than walking around while using a flashlight. Sometimes the two will pair up, with you maneuvering the grandfather around to point his flashlight at certain platforms, while Emilio jumps and climbs from one area to the next.
Nikolai, the survivor, presents the most unique form of platforming with the use a grappling hook, pulling himself over tall objects, or swinging over large gaps. This was an ambitious idea that unfortunately took a turn for the worst, as most of the time I found myself getting stuck in the environment or undershooting platforms with its Bionic Command-like swing mechanics. Nikolai himself was a great character, but I began to loathe any chance I had to control him early on, which is a shame. Emilio definitely had a few odd platforming segments where I’d fall and have to redo the same swimming portions over and over again, but I chalked that up to personal mistakes. Nikolai, however, was generally a matter of perseverance for sake of furthering the game’s well written narrative.
The game controls pretty poorly overall, especially during the grappling hook segments, but I did enjoy exploring every area that I came across, reading found documents, and seeing how the story played out. The writing is fantastic and displays a lot of emotion and character in its memorable cast. Lovers will be lovers, fathers will be fathers, and determined naive youth will be determined and naive, especially when it comes to finding their parents.
Some of the voiceovers could have used a little work, namely Emilio, but it was generally easy on the ears. All of the dialogue between characters is complete voiced over, but there’s still a fair share of reading to be done if you’re the type to hunt down every clue or historical document. The Working Parts did an excellent job pacing the flow of the narrative, introducing you to its cast of characters and giving you enough background information to get a feel for their personalities and backgrounds, without feeling overwhelmed at all.
It’s a shame that a game with such a great narrative and creative art style is hindered by something as unavoidable as its gameplay. There aren’t many brain teasing puzzles to beat your head around, or finely-tuned platforming segments to fail, but I found myself falling off ledges or getting stuck in the environment enough while using the grappling hook that it became a bit of a hassle. The game is short enough where it never wore on me too much, but I couldn’t help but notice the lack of polish during certain exploration portions.
If you prefer story over action, Residue is definitely worth your attention. The story told and the characters within were an absolute pleasure to experience, and I expected nothing less from The Working Parts after playing through They Breathe for the first time. Their musical team also provides an amazing score, especially its ending theme, Circles, by Jens Boberg. Unfortunately the game’s lackluster grappling hook and platforming segments do get in the way a bit, but it’s definitely an enjoyable experience overall.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and on again/off again WoW player that favors roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.