Modern puzzle adventures are usually relaxed affairs that give ample time to solve their brain teasers. Summertime Madness is the exception, intended to be played with a six-hour time limit. At any time, it’s possible to bring up the protagonist’s pocket watch to see how much time is left. This isn’t merely a gameplay feature – it’s also the plot’s crux, with our weary lead leaping into a magical painting to flee the horrors of World War II. If they can’t escape the painting’s puzzles within six hours, they’ll be trapped forever.
For the most part, we didn’t pay much attention to time spent – partly because it isn’t clear what the game’s typical runtime is. A potential three hours is at least possible, being another optional limit. As we tried to figure out the penultimate puzzle, with just over five hours on the clock, we did start to fret our war-torn hero might not make it. Amounting pressure certainly made the experience a more memorable one.
It begins peacefully enough, introducing a bright and colourful hub world with rolling green grass and calm seas. It’s also here the game looks its best, with later sections being considerably bleaker.
There’s no tutorial to speak of; just a simple puzzle taking place on a boat to ease you in. Although just a one-button interface is used, it can still be a bit finicky to interact with smaller objects, making it clear this was intended to be played with a mouse originally. The worst offender is a puzzle involving balancing two scales perfectly, where each item – from a pool of around twenty – must be cycled through manually by flicking the analogue stick.
Although there’s no quest log and little in the way of guidance, there is a hint system – intended as a last resort. Every time it’s used, fifteen minutes are deducted from the clock. Its worth is negligible, however. We become stuck on a puzzle involving rotating gears and eventually asked for a hint…which simply showed us which location to head next. Oh.
The game’s first half mostly focuses on smaller, condensed, puzzles that take place in self-contained areas. After entering these areas, the task at hand soon becomes obvious – even without instructions. As such, these ‘starter’ puzzles can be cleared relatively quickly, which is moderately satisfying.
A shake-up then takes place during the second half, making way for a time-consuming, multi-layered, puzzle that compasses an entire town. Here, you’re tasked with finding and activating numerous switches to clear a tram route while swapping between two realms. This puzzle is a significant undertaking, clearly intended to take in the vicinity of an hour. While it definitely provides a challenge, why the developers didn’t add anything beyond switch flicking is a mystery. Some variety would have helped this puzzle feel less chore-like.
The second half isn’t all bad, though – there’s an ingenious Hideo Kojima-esque puzzle that requires out of the box thinking, eventually resulting in a ‘eureka’ moment. Or a Google search. Sadly, this momentum isn’t carried forward – the penultimate puzzle takes place in a deary floating maze with numerous dead ends and (purposely) limited visibility. It’s a far cry from the luscious, visually pleasing, opening. Summertime Madness is at least taxing throughout, albeit for varying reasons.
With three kinds of collectable to find, a handful of secrets to discover, and the 3-hour limit to tackle, you won’t be seeing everything on your first playthrough. We imagine additional playthroughs will be far less stressful, knowing what to expect and how to beat the tricker sections.
On Xbox One/Xbox Series, Summertime Madness is a bit of a hard sell. Game Pass is rife with similar games that provide near-identical mental workouts, with this bearing resemblance to last year’s Myst remake in particular. For PS4/PS5 owners, it’s easier to recommend. And despite some shortcomings with puzzle variety during the second half, ‘on the go’ Switch players will likely relish the quick fix the first half provides.
Uneven but never uninteresting – that’s the madness of Summertime Madness.
Summertime Madness is published by Sometimes You. Due 26th January on PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series and Switch. It first launched on PC in 2021.