I’ve always asked myself the question whether games journos should review within genres they dislike. Does having a strong knowledge create bias? Or provide context? Could a newbie to the genre provide more clarity?
It’s a moot point, with the correct answer being (as it is with so many things in life) ‘depends…’ but one thing is a certainty: that I know practically nowt about point and click adventure games. I played a little bit of Monkey Island on my Amiga back in the early Nineties, then something something time speeds by, something something 2021, something something old man, and ay up: I’m playing Encodya.
This is a modern/retro blend of ‘hot spot’ hunting, i.e. clicking on stuff in the environment to see what it is and what it can do for you, and modern visuals. Aesthetics-wise, it’s a very pleasing example of Euro-flavoured Cyberpunk. There’s enough in it to feel part of the electro-future we’re inevitably headed for, but without sacrificing the heritage of its Berlin-set backdrop.
You play as a little kid called Tina, who’s a government-issue street urchin. Followed around by her lumbering, benign companion robot SAM-53 you’re tasked with solving a relatively simple puzzle which is how to survive in a world that has forgotten you and left you behind. Orphaned and without familial support, scavenging for food and supplies is your daily grind – it’s (little orphan) Annie mixed with Blade Runner.
The tone of Encodya leans more towards Disney than Ridley Scott, mind. In my time with it, adults were distant figures that were alternately kindly, patronising, dismissive and concerned. What they weren’t was aggressive or threatening, and Neo Berlin soon starts to feel like a large, somewhat empty playground for Tina to muck about in and dive into its more intriguing crannies.
As someone not a fan of these games, the ‘get such and such from a person then combine it with this item in this location to achieve a result’ isn’t all that familiar to me, but did put me in mind of Shenmue to a certain degree, especially the way you have to have RPG-like encounters at given times and places to unlock progression.
A welcome wrinkle is that you can switch between Tina and SAM at will, each having a different effect on conversations. SAM usually represents the ability to logically progress whereas Tina is more effective at dragging feelings and opinions out of people, and you’ll need both to get by.
There’s a lovely visual effect in the game giving it a cartoon style, but feels more rough-edged and middle-European than the smooth-edged, sunshiney perfection that comes out of California. Cel shading over broke-down, gritty futurism works well at evoking the right feelings for the type of experience you’re meant to be having.
As per my first paragraph, though, I might not be the right fit for this game. Adventure games bore me half to death after a few minutes of slow traversal, repeat conversations as I try and work out what to do next, and puzzles that flit between simplistic and obscure. The very stuff that puts me off them is what draws others in, so I totally understand it’s all very deliberate.
Not a game for me, then, but very likely one for you if you’re a genre fan. Charming without being facile, there’s a lot packed into Encodya. You may want to pick it up and start teasing it out.