Vienna-based developer Mi’pu’mi Games has taken inspiration from its home city for The Lion’s Song, a four-part narrative adventure. The world ‘adventure’ conjures images of swashbuckling and derring-do but this is a more meditative point-and-click experience. The Austrian capital was a hub of artistic and scientific endeavour at the turn of the 20th century and in that setting you’ll spend your time searching for inspiration in the every day, negotiating oppressive social norms and battling personal demons. No pirates or talking beasties here!
The four episodes compiled for this Switch release previously appeared on PC and mobile and each is immediately accessible from the main menu. Each self-contained chapter follows a different protagonist but their stories overlap, connecting in various ways depending on your choices, with recurring characters and locations. Episode one revolves around Wilma, a gifted young violinist having difficulties composing a piece following an incredible debut. Infatuated with her tutor, she retreats to an isolated cabin in the mountains at his suggestion in order to work in solitude.
Episode two focuses on aspiring artist Franz, struggling to develop his eye and understand both himself and his subjects while capturing their multi-faceted personalities on canvas. Episode three sees mathematician Emma fighting a numerical conundrum as well as the restrictive gender politics of her era, while Episode four – appropriately titled ‘Closure’ – poignantly links the previous stories. Although the protagonists are fictional, many luminaries from the artistic and scientific fields get name-checked and you’ll likely cross paths with Gustav Klimt, Freud and Wittgenstein on your journey.
As you can see from the screenshots, the pixel aesthetic gives a period feel – imagine a sepia-toned Thimbleweed Park without the verb menu and you’re not far off. However, while you won’t be investigating murders or insult-sword-fighting in pre-war Vienna, dramatic framing and subtle graphical flourishes keep things visually striking. Environmental elements illuminate as your protagonist’s thought process develops; ghostly character outlines appear and hang in mid-air; mathematical equations and graph curves snake across furniture. It all looks sumptuously rich and sharp with wonderful animation.
There’s a cinematic influence in the direction of these scenes and the surreal elements that convey the characters’ perception of the world. They find inspiration in their everyday surroundings – figures appear and leave outlines that dissolve with audio flourishes or the cursor becomes a bouncing musical note as Wilma finds a melody. Sound is an integral part of the experience – whether it’s chalk on a blackboard, birdsong in the countryside or a character’s heartbeat – and a good pair of headphones will enhance the experience.
As with other point-and-click adventures that have appeared on Switch, The Lion’s Song disappointingly lacks pointer controls. Perhaps more surprisingly, the touchscreen also goes unsupported. Elsewhere this would be a significant drawback, but the tranquil nature of the gameplay and its lack of intricate verb menus or UI elements mean the stick-controlled cursor feels just fine in practice.
Tapping ‘A’ speeds up and skips text, though you’ll want to read everything as the writing is generally top drawer. Upon completion of an episode, you can review your decisions against those of other players – ‘11% didn’t talk about X to Y either’ – and you have the option to return to those decisive scenes and make different choices to uncover new ‘connections’. These unlock achievements viewable in a special gallery from the main menu. It’s a neat way of enabling you to explore the other narrative branches without replaying great swathes of the game.
Not that a replay would take long – The Lion’s Song is a pleasantly brief experience. Each episode lasts between 30 minutes to an hour. While this may seem short, it suits the game’s tone – it feels like a short novel and is best consumed in a comfy chair over a sitting or two with a glass of something nice. It certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome.
It’s a delicate game with choices that unlock opportunities for reflection and rely on memory and intuition rather than skill or dexterity. You might be asked to recall a particular conversation in order to reveal a new side of a subject’s personality or scroll back and forth to reveal a diagram representing earlier work on your mathematical problem. Puzzles are not the focus and the interactions are agreeably engaging rather than taxing. You won’t encounter the frustrations common to the genre – there are no objects to use in obscure, unorthodox ways – and this enables a gentle, pensive game that gives you time to meditate on some mighty big subjects of the human condition.
An emotional story that weaves big themes across its episodes, The Lion’s Song is a poignant point-and-click adventure with excellent audio, a beautiful art style and great writing. The exploration of its subjects isn’t muddied with obstinate riddles or ill-fitting mechanics and it’s a satisfying, albeit brief, experience that is absolutely worthy of your time.