For a game that sees you controlling waterfowl and doesn't feature any robots, guns or tortured subplots, it's incredible how much attention Untitled Goose Game has garnered since it was revealed way back in October 2017. Thanks to its unique visual style, whimsical setting and instantly relatable protagonist, House House's sophomore title captured the hearts and minds of all that saw it, and subsequent hands-on sessions over the past few months have done little to reduce the level of hype. Quite the opposite, in fact – it quickly became one of our most eagerly-awaited Switch titles for 2019.
Now we finally have the finished product in our hands, it's everything we hoped it would be. It's a joy to play, a wonder to behold and sticks in your mind long after you've finished it – which, sadly, won't take much time as longevity happens to be this particular goose's Achilles' heel. Having said that, while it lasts, Untitled Goose Game is a complete and utter riot; a game that not only makes you laugh out loud but also exercises your reflexes, brainpower and resourcefulness.
The game begins with a gentle introduction which allows you to familiarise yourself with the controls. The A button causes the goose to pick things up with its beak – heavier items can only be dragged – while the Y button emits a honking sound which can be used to attract the attention of humans or make them jump and drop whatever it is they are carrying (this is important). The B button causes the goose to sprint (an essential skill, but one that reduces your turning circle and overall responsiveness), while ZL makes it duck down, allowing it to pass through tight spaces or reach items on the ground. ZR causes it to flap its wings, L zooms the camera in, R zooms out and the Minus button brings up your current list of objectives.
These objectives are deliciously goofy and often heavily disruptive to the lives of the peace-loving people in the quaint English village where the game takes place. You're asked to perform tasks like creating a picnic from assorted items dotted around a garden or dressing up a stone bust with various bits of clothing. Elsewhere, you must trick someone into breaking their neighbour's prized vase or force an individual to pay for an object they rightfully own. While some of these objectives have clear pathways to success, there are some which can be tackled in more than one way, sometimes using items found elsewhere in the game. We're not talking Hitman levels of possibilities here, but the game certainly encourages experimentation.
While Untitled Goose Game was billed as a 'stealth' experience just after its announcement, remaining out of sight isn't as important as you might expect; sure, there are times when hiding behind a bush and spooking a human is necessary, but you can often run about causing annoyance in plain sight and still get the job done – there are no 'insta-fail' stealth missions here, thank goodness (you do, however, get the chance to hide in a box, Solid Snake-style).
Each 'to do' item on your list is neatly summarised in a single sentence, and while there are some examples which could be seen as too obtuse, it's usually pretty obvious what is required of you – the challenge is manipulating both the people and the items in order to tick off that particular objective. Each completed task has a line drawn through it on your notepad (geese have stationary, apparently); never has the sound of a pencil meeting paper sounded so rewarding.
As you tick off tasks, Untitled Goose Game's sublime interface and fully-realised world really come to the forefront; your pesky winged avatar is a real joy to control, and thanks to some convincing and robust physics, objects react just as you'd expect them to – balls roll down gentle inclines, while solid items stack upon one another fairly reliably (ideal when a challenge which requires you to weigh down a set of scales, for example).
Certain objects are a little annoying to manipulate and control (the aforementioned ball, for example, which often feels like it has a life of its own) but using a combination of your crouching posture and the A-button 'peck', you can usually get the job done. And, while it's not possible to 'lose' an item required for progress by either accident or design (even dropping something down the big, tempting well in the centre of the village simply results in it reappearing in the pond), you can exit the game and return all items to their original locations without losing your 'to-do' list progress, which makes things a little easier when you really get in a muddle and can't recall where you left those bloody glasses.
The game's village is divided into sections which, once you've ticked off all of the objectives, open up into other areas. The whole village is interconnected thanks to a series of unlockable gates, which come in very handy later on when you're tasked with transplanting objects from one area to another. There's a nice degree of variety on display, too; the opening garden gives way to the busier high street, which is superseded by some prim-and-proper terraced housing and then a grand public house and restaurant, complete with dartboard, delivery van and angry landlord (and landlady). The way in which all of these locations interlink is well done; outside of the opening boot sequence, there are no load times to speak of. This is a seamless and brilliantly-realised environment which, if you're from the British Isles, will seem instantly familiar.
According to the developer, the game's look was influenced by UK TV programmes like Postman Pat and Thomas the Tank Engine; it's remarkable to consider that House House is actually based on the other side of the world – the Australian team has truly nailed the look and atmosphere of your typical, unassuming English hamlet. The music, too, is brilliant; it's context-sensitive and reacts to the on-screen action. When you're quietly stalking around trying to keep a low profile (flower beds and bushes are helpful here) the audio drops down, but the moment someone spots you stealing one of their items, the piano-based tune swells and rises perfectly, lending that little bit of extra tension and urgency to proceedings. While we're on the topic of presentation, performance in both docked and handheld mode is excellent – there are a few instances where the frame rate dips a little, but it's never anywhere close to being game-breaking.
Outside of the setting, one of the obvious key attractions of Untitled Goose Game is the fact that you take on the role of a really annoying bird. While the checklist of tasks ensures that you're duty-bound to create mischief, just as much fun can be had creating your own brand of freeform annoyance. Indeed, when we handed the game to someone who had never heard of it before, we were surprised to find that instead of following the objectives, they simply wandered about seeing what items they could steal and hurl into a nearby pond.
As a sandbox of cheekiness, Untitled Goose Game scores highly; it helps that there are numerous hidden objectives which can be unlocked by experimenting with the environment and the items found within. The world is so utterly convincing – and so brilliantly governed by its own set of rules – that simply wandering around is a pleasure in itself; watching the gardener diligently attempt to tidy up the massive mess you've so thoughtlessly made (a commendable trait that many of the human characters posses) is both gratifying and ever-so-slightly mortifying at the same time.
While it lasts, Untitled Goose Game is a total riot, and not a single second is wasted when it comes to pure entertainment value. The maximum amount of amusement is extracted from its runtime, which – it pains us to say – is perhaps a little too lean for our liking. When the credits rolled we felt like we were just getting into the swing of things, and while there's a pretty robust post-game package, it doesn't expand the world in any way.
When you consider the asking price of Untitled Goose Game, there's definitely an argument to say it's not terrific value for money; your initial playthrough can take a couple of hours, depending on how quickly you work out the solutions to the puzzles. Completing the post-game elements – which include finding all of the hidden objectives as well as ticking-off all of the original tasks within each area in under six minutes each (a surprisingly stern challenge, to be honest) – will add a few more hours to that total, but it's possible to see all that Untitled Goose Game has to offer in quite a short space of time.
That obviously counts against it, but the question remains: is the experience you have within those few hours enjoyable enough to justify the cost of entry? We'd argue yes, because there's nothing quite like Untitled Goose Game on the market. While they're two entirely different games, we'd draw a comparison with Journey, a title with a similarly short runtime and price, but one that we'd heartily recommend to anyone and everyone regardless. While we'd love to have seen more areas to explore or tasks to undertake (DLC could well fill that void), we enjoyed our time with Untitled Goose Game immensely.
Untitled Goose Game boasts more inventiveness, creativity and charm than the vast majority of titles on the Switch eShop, and offers a believable game world that's a real pleasure to explore, investigate and – of course – cause merry havoc in. Superb physics, excellent controls, surprisingly robust AI and unique presentation all combine to make this a real highlight in the Switch's library – it's only the brevity of the experience that lets it down, but this really is a case of quality over quantity.