Old Man's Journey is one of those games that’s hard to talk about without venturing into spoiler territory. As a short but sweet experience, it’s the story that takes centre stage here, with the gameplay confined to the audience of the auditorium. It’s definitely not going to be a game for everyone, but does this PC/mobile port deliver something special for those it does grab the attention of?
As the name suggests, you play as an old man whom after receiving a letter in the mail, sets off on a journey. During his voyage, he’ll reminisce of memories that include his wife and family, as well as places he has visited. The entire plot is based around who sent the letter and what was contained within it that sparked the elderly gentleman’s trek.
Not a single word of dialogue is spoken throughout the game, instead plot points and revelations are illustrated by environmental storytelling. It’s a good job that this works so successfully then, because the title comes equipped with an important message. We of course won’t spoil it, but we’ll say that is a sombre but also uplifting tale that is very much grounded in reality. It comments on incidents that many of us have already been through, and will most certainly have to tackle in the future. As its driving force, Old Man’s Journey’s plot is grounded, raw, but most of all, important.
Gameplay comes in the form of a 2D puzzling side-scroller where you’ll never directly control the aging hiker. Instead, you will use a cursor to plot a path for him to follow, but the biggest barrier to this is the avenue itself. You have the ability to move and shape the hills and landscape around you, and this is where the brainteasers come into play. While it’s never especially difficult, the gameplay loop revolves around you forging a path for the weary traveller by shaping the scenery to create a simple road to follow.
Things get slightly more complex towards the back half of the experience as flocks of sheep are introduced that you must manoeuvre around, as well as barrels that must be rolled down the hills to destroy a wall blocking your path, but besides that your interaction with the title remains minimal at best throughout the two hour run-time.
To mix the pace up a little, the senior citizen will hop aboard a train or a truck occasionally to get to his destination quicker. These are welcome changes because you’ll now be moving train tracks into position or roads into place so the mode of transport can progress. And it’s this that gives the most justification to another way of playing, the Nintendo Switch touchscreen. The entire game can be played using just your finger to manipulate the hills in a sensible fashion, but this becomes the defining way to play in these faster paced sections. Due to their speed, it’s quicker and easier to swipe with your finger to slot pieces into place, and thus keep things moving.
It’s abundantly clear then that the gameplay is nothing more than a vehicle to progress the story. While the puzzles themselves are a neat idea, they’re never very difficult to solve or execute. Understandably, this will turn a lot of people away if the literal act of playing the game is what’s most important to them.
What can’t be doubted, however, is how utterly stunning Old Man’s Journey looks. Its art style looks like it has been pulled straight out of a children’s book, with bright and blocky tones really standing out to create some beautiful looking scenes. The vignettes are the highlights though as we take a dive into the aging husband’s past, with jaw-dropping landscapes that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery. This is then combined with an incredibly relaxing soundtrack, that makes the act of playing the game a very tranquil experience.
If you’re looking for something substantial in the gameplay department, Old Man’s Journey probably isn’t for you. Its main mechanic is neat, but it doesn’t build upon it and due to the lack of any surrounding substance, you’ll be left feeling short changed. But for those that connect with it, Old Man’s Journey will offer up a memorable experience that comes equipped with a meaningful message and a stunning graphical palette.