When the Past was Around should be right in my wheelhouse. It’s short – bingo. It’s about grief – good news. It’s a bit odd – please and thank you. It aims high, but I ended up with less than the sum of its well-crafted parts.
It’s craft worthy of a better game. The hand-drawn art style is attractive, and unusual enough to stand out – and not just because Eda, the main character, is involved with Owl, a human-owl hybrid. It sounds lovely too, with effective use of a short violin motif throughout.
And the narrative is ambitious, told silently through Eda exploring memories of their relationship. But the game is so short – a couple of hours – that I hadn’t built enough investment in the characters for the story’s emotional punches to land with any real impact. There’s some clever storytelling, but I just needed a bit more.
To make matters worse, the game’s point-and-click puzzle mechanics often served to take me out of the story. Completing tasks for the characters – a spot of laundry, making a couple of drinks – work well enough, and are consistent with the narrative. But the abundance of locked doors and boxes, that need you to poke around the environment to find a token to unlock, or a code to decipher, all of which bear absolutely no connection to the story whatsoever, is completely baffling.
So the slow-paced story gets in the way of a perfectly serviceable puzzle game. And the puzzles get in the way of what could be an engaging narrative. The individual elements work in isolation, but don’t quite come together to form a coherent whole. Like Alan Bennett presenting The Crystal Maze.
When the Past was Around is out now for PC/Mac, PlayStation 4 (played), Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.