While 2016 may go down as one of the worst years ever, the one thing it was good for was point-n-click adventure games. Nelly Cootalot, Samorost 3, Kathy Rain, Day of the Tentacle: Remastered, King’s Quest, Shardlight, a few great Telltale titles, and even with a new Deponia game dragging the average down it’s still been a fantastic year for puzzle-y adventures. But the year’s not over yet and we’re still missing a crucial name. No, not Ron Gilbert (Thimbleweed Park’s been delayed to 2017), the UK’s own Charles Cecil. While we don’t have a new Broken Sword or Beneath A Steel Sky this year Charles is instead serving as Executive Producer for Pewter Games’ The Little Acre, so as a consequence we were very much looking forward to it.
The titular Little Acre
Protagonist Aidan lives with his young daughter Lily and dog Dougal in a little house in Ireland. Aidan’s dad Arthur usually does too, but recently he went on an expedition and hasn’t returned. Now all Aidan has of his dad is the mountain of useless machines Arthur put together, but the appearance of a mysterious crystal sends both Aidan and Lily on an adventure to another world in search of him and the way home. And that’s just the first hour.
I’m not going to spoil what happens in the second hour, but you’ll probably have finished the game by the end of it. Yes, The Little Acre is an appropriate title because this is a tiny, tiny game. I’m pretty sure the last Telltale Batman episode lasted me longer than two hours and that didn’t even have puzzles to solve. Considering the plot incorporates a weird fantasy world with its own logic and creatures, two playable characters visiting different locations, a secret government research lab, a powerful alien trying to rule both worlds, super-energy crystals and a giant caterpillar-dog it’s amazing how little all of these actually feature. The research lab in particular barely appears at all.
And this is half of it
Now I don’t mind short games (I love them in fact), but nearly half The Little Acre and basically all of the decent puzzles are set in and around the opening house before Aidan and Lily even set foot in the magic world of Clonfira. It honestly feels Pewter Games had this lovely concept for an adventure game, started making the beginning, and then either ran out of ideas or money as soon as they started on the fantasy part. The villain is the least threatening bad guy ever, the story just ends without going into any sort of depth, and the puzzles basically either disappear or become linear to the point of irrelevance.
Ah yes, the puzzles. Just like I won’t vilify a short game I also won’t denounce an adventure for having simple puzzles, but The Little Acre starts off with proper challenging adventure game-style puzzles and quickly ends up forgetting about them altogether. I was stuck trying to get into Arthur’s shed ten minutes into the game, and never would again because all the puzzles after that are based on a single screen with a maximum of three objects to interact with. The first puzzle in the game, Aidan trying to get up without waking Lily, is tougher than the last one in the game. Yes, it’s literally harder to get out of bed than it is to defeat the villain and save the world. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes of The Little Acre that made them give up on creating at least remotely challenging puzzles, but it leaves the game feeling deeply unsatisfying.
These are the nicest bits. If only they were the whole game.
Performance & Graphics
OS: Windows 7 64 Bit Service Pack 1
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz
Memory: 3 GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTS 450+ with 1024MB+ VRAM (excluding GT), latest drivers
DirectX: Version 11
Additional: Not Recommended for Intel integrated graphics
The first thing that strikes you about The Little Acre is the art style and animation. It’s lovely. It’s all angular with cool sweeping movements like an early Disney movie. I was particularly reminded of the original 101 Dalmatians, which I personally love. Watching and exploring The Little Acre is an absolute treat and developer Pewter Games are clearly very proud of their look, and they have right to be. It’s gorgeous and stands out well against the 3D models, pixel art, and Bill Tiller Curse of Monkey Island art styles that adventure games tend to fall into.
Except for Clonfira, unfortunately. For some baffling reason the fantasy world that we spend 60% or more of the game in is not done in the same art style, instead adopting an isometric RPG look. I have no idea why Pewter Games have done this. It still looks pretty good and with some nice animation on monsters, but why change the whole camera angle and make The Little Acre feel like a different, and less good, game?
Still nice, but...
Audio / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects are nice enough although hardly memorable, but I do want to dwell on the voice acting. It’s awful. Some of the most off-putting acting in an adventure since The Whispered World in my opinion (where Sadwick sounds like a 70-year-old man doing an impression of a teenager). Some are just mediocre, like Aidan who sounds perpetually like he doesn’t know what emotion he’s supposed to be conveying, but others are downright miscast. Lily is supposed to be a very young girl, around 5-8 years old, but her actor is doing a voice way older than that. And the villain (whose name I won’t reveal for spoilers) sounds just plain wrong and unthreatening, as if Pewter Games were going to make a better villain and ran out of time or money so just had to promote some random background character instead.
THE LITTLE ACRE VERDICT
We were looking forward to The Little Acre as soon as we saw the lovely art and Charles Cecil’s involvement, but sadly it’s pretty bad. I don’t mind short games but at two hours (including puzzle solving) the game doesn’t leave much room for storytelling, character and world building, compelling puzzles, or much of anything really. The story hints at a government conspiracy and a larger world that never comes to anything and the main villain is utterly unintimidating. The art is nice, at least until it changes to the isometric viewpoint of Clonfira, the characters are quite compelling for the little screen time they have, and there are snatches of brilliance in moments like when Lily works with an animal companion to solve puzzles. Sadly those moments are few, and the game basically gives up on puzzles completely after the first chapter. Then it’ll be over, and you’ll wonder why you bothered playing it when so many great adventure games came out this year you could be playing instead. Charles, what exactly did you do here?
TOP GAME MOMENT
Whenever Lily interacts with either dog Dougal or a giant caterpillar.
Charming enough, with a lovely art style and great animation for the most part
Characters are nice and fun to play with
Only two hours long even with puzzle solving, and the story doesn’t really go anywhere
Puzzles stop being difficult after the first chapter
Why does the art style change to a less-good isometric style for half the game?