23rd Aug2018

Digital Shorts: ‘Earthworms’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

In DIGITAL SHORTS we review some of the latest video games that are only available digitally (at least in the UK), in a short-form review format. In this edition we take a look at Earthworms – an indie game that has joined the line-up of Nindies on the Nintendo Switch.

earthworms

A quirky adventure that is intriguing enough to play through to the end, despite some strangeness brought on by translation issues and relatively straightforward gameplay…

Developed by Polish company All Those Moments, Earthworms is a point and click graphic adventure featuring the usual gameplay and mechanics of ‘use item on item’, ‘click on everything to get info’ and ‘distract people to nick keys off desks’. What makes the game stand out somewhat is its quite unique setting, bonkers story and offbeat humour (mostly down to the translation).

As Daniel White, you are a private investigator who has been tasked by a man dressed as a tree (naturally) to come to a strange island in order to find a missing girl, a la The Wicker Man but it quickly becomes apparent that there are other forces at work on the island. Daniel isn’t your standard detective, in that he often has very oblique visions that supposedly help him on his cases but are often just obtuse clues of very little help (something that the game directly references). Presented in a hand-drawn washed out watercolour style, Earthworms is quite distinctive visually and the swirling music which alternates from clanging, distorted samples to gentle ambient noises, depending on which location that you are in add to its character. I must admit that I really enjoyed the sudden changes in audio as the general strangeness of the game is enhanced by the seemingly eclectic sound design, giving the whole thing a dreamlike feel. Then there’s the way that everyone speaks…

Having been translated from Polish, there is a slight lop-sidedness to everyone’s dialogue (the in-game conversations are all text-based with no voice acting). Characters all seem to pretty one-dimensional with odd speech patterns filled with non-sequiturs, making strange demands whilst the protagonist makes odd observations at the world around him, occasionally doing sudden yoga poses in front of land marks and trees, etc. The story is also full-on and gets more and more bonkers the deeper into the game you go.

The thing is, whereas these would usually be issues, completely unnatural dialogue, lop-sided, strange quests, awkward translations etc. As the game is going for a surreal quality anyway, it all fits together in a mad jigsaw and the design faults feel somehow cohesive. The puzzles are also pretty logical, some are off the wall but I was never totally stuck and even when I glanced at a walkthrough a few times, there was nothing that seemed like it would get a player stumped for days, requiring a completely nonsensical solution. I will say that the ending of the game is quite short and the fact that there are three possible endings isn’t really enough to warrant a play-through, however. You’ll pretty much get everything you want out of the game in one run.

Earthworms is an oddball of a game that I enjoyed playing through, despite its idiosyncrasies, which I can imagine really won’t appeal to everyone. If you are new to the graphic adventure genre, this really isn’t an ideal place to start but if you are a fan of more unusual games like Beckett or perhaps the flawed but fun Deadly Premonition, there will be enough in Earthworms for you to enjoy.

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