In a world where bigger and louder is too often mistaken for better, and “epic” is the new “cool”, it’s easy to overlook a pretty little gem of a game sparkling quietly in the corner of the room. But for every Doom and Grand Theft Auto there’s a Limbo or Myst, and this week’s breath of fresh air comes from none other than Geeta Games, who count several of the original Myst developers among their number. Lilly Looking Through, their new point-and-click adventure for PC, Mac and Linux, flows like water over river rocks, and stands apart as a welcome sanctuary from the usual ultra-violent action and slapstick comedy.
Though a point-and-click by definition, Lilly Looking Through features none of the usual endless dialogue which most games in the genre depend upon for plot advancement and character development. Instead, Lilly relies heavily on intuition; after a few introductory pointers, players are left to themselves to explore the world at their own pace, free of prompts, hints, or commentary. Everything you need to know is laid out before you on-screen – no inventory, no journal listing miscellaneous objectives, nothing. The result is a quiet, organic progression of events which feels natural and deliberate.
And therein lies the real beauty of this game; not one moment feels rushed. Despite the fact that the game begins with Lilly’s friend being carried off by an invisible force, at no point does the game try to force a sense of urgency onto the player. It’s like a dream of a happy childhood memory, sweet and sunlit and colored with imagination. Puzzle-solving becomes a game of hide-and-seek, chasing after Lilly’s missing friend isn’t too far a cry from following the leader, and several levels contain elements reminiscent of a playground, including a set of rungs which Lilly climbs across like monkey bars.
Though some puzzles pose particularly difficult challenges (especially towards the end), for the most part simply experimenting with various interactive objects eventually leads to a solution. If you do get stuck, there’s always the hint option, which highlights important items in the area. On the harder puzzles, this isn’t too helpful, as the problem is usually figuring out what to do with the objects you’ve already found, but it’s good for situations in which some smaller items might be easily overlooked.
The hint option also indicates when Lilly should use her goggles to approach the situation from a new perspective. The goggles, which she picks up at the beginning of the game, aren’t just shiny and fashionable; these goggles allow the wearer to travel into a long-ago past, which was greener, cleaner, and, somehow, more alive than the present. This puts a new spin on the puzzle-solving – for instance, a unlocked door now might have been locked back then, and a broken bridge used to be functional before time eroded it.
Several temporal switches may be required to solve any given puzzle, and it’s always a treat to see how each new environment has changed over the course of time. This is thanks in large part to the obvious dedication of the artists on team Geeta – each level features a vast and highly detailed landscape in which every digital brushstroke becomes a delectable piece of eye-candy. Chris Beazer’s delicate soundtrack adds to the serene beauty rather than distracting from it, and not one ripple or rustle or gasp is out of place in the soundscape of the peaceful realm that serves as Lilly’s playground.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, is Lilly herself, along with her little friend. In stark contrast to the classical-style background art, the character models are jarringly flat and blocky. Though their movements are animated in a fair approximation of real children, they simply don’t look like they belong – it’s like watching a pair of Wii personas wander around in the middle of a Final Fantasy cut-scene. And they certainly take their time doing it; in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere of the game, Lilly and her friend move at a dreamy, slow-motion pace which looks nice, but can be a little frustrating if you click something by accident since interactions can’t be canceled once they’re initiated. This is especially noticeable in puzzles that require a certain order of action; one wrong move, and you’ve got to start the whole process all over again. Slowly.
Lilly Looking Through isn’t about to get your heart pounding or your blood pumping, but every now and then a person needs to take a break – and few games pass the time more pleasantly than Lilly. Exploring a world through the eyes of a child, fearless and full of wonder, is a welcome treat to be savored and delighted in.
The full version of Lilly Looking Through, as well as the soundtrack and a deluxe edition, can be purchased via the official site or Steam. If you’d like to try before you buy, the developers also offer a free downloadable demo on their site.
[review pros=”Soothing atmosphere, interesting twist on point-and-click gameplay, beautiful environmental design, intriguing puzzles, deliberate pacing, streamlined display” cons=”Character models don’t fit environment, accidental interactions can’t be canceled, hint system could be more helpful ” score=85]