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Wot I Think: Lilly Looking Through

A game without end.

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Successfully making its way through Kickstarter and Greenlight, how does indie adventure Lilly Looking Through cope when it meets Rock, Paper, Shotgun? Here’s wot I think:

This is going to happen a lot, I guess. Lilly Looking Through was an adorable-looking Kickstarter, with the advantage of a playable demo, asking for just £18,000. They wanted the money, they said, because it would allow them to “finish the game” more quickly, with a target of May 2013. It’s now November, and I’ve just finished what appears to be a fragment of something.

A nice fragment, certainly. A gorgeously animated, and cutely realised fragment. But to claim that the two to three hours on offer here represents a complete game sets up a hefty frustration for anyone finishing it. The story, deliberately ambiguous it must be said, doesn’t end at all. Instead it just stops, seemingly mid-scene, and then some credits start rolling. Were this advertised as the first chapter of something (and indeed Kickstarted as such), then it would make sense. However, instead you have a Kickstarter page that promises “4-6 hours”, and no suggestion at all that this isn’t to be a complete story.

This is such a huge shame, because Lilly is a quite nice little thing. It’s nothing exceptional, certainly, and it definitely falls short of the Amanita games its design is so clearly aping. But it’s a sweet, extremely simple adventure, with minimal interactivity, and a couple of awkwardly over-complicated/under-explained puzzles.

Lilly, and maybe her brother, live in a cutesy house by the river. A red ribbon of some sort swoops in and steals the little boy away, and it’s up to Lilly to chase after to rescue. So yes, immediately a welcome reversal of the typical gender roles, and a nice indication that this is a magical, unusual world.

Your controls are generally opting between clicking on maybe four things on screen, although more often just one. This is very much in the mould of Amanita’s Samorost and Botanicula, although without the intricate background details. In those games sweeping the mouse around the screen creates all sorts of wonderful little animations and moments, while here there’s just the core things to click on. Lilly’s pursuit is hampered by various obstacles and challenges, soon embellished further by the introduction of a magical pair of goggles. Wearing these causes the world around Lilly to change to the past. Seemingly a hundred years or so. This naturally brings in the opportunity for time-travelly-Day-Of-The-Tentacle puzzles, although too often it doesn’t do it.

Instead it’s mostly about movement. If you switch times, you can reach a point you couldn’t in the other. On a couple of the occasions where affecting the past to change the future does occur, it’s utterly lovely. It’s mystifying that this is such a minor part of how things are played, and indeed how it’s so underplayed. Rather, it tends to be about changing the colour of something, for some reason, rather than joyfully rearranging the future to your advantage.

The animations throughout are absolutely lovely. The backgrounds are gorgeously painted, and the Flash-ish characters look adorable. So it’s a pretty massive shame the entire game has been rendered at an incredibly low resolution, and suffers significantly when played in full screen. Objects, when animated, spring into lovely life, then when stationary drop back into unaliased, often pixelated blurs. Quite why in 2013 it was developed at 1280×720, degrading as it’s stretched, is hard to explain. Unless of course this was developed primarily for tablets – a platform that would suit it far better it’s worth saying – despite their failing to reach the named stretch goal. It doesn’t appear to be for sale there yet, though. So, what then?

Those puzzles I mentioned. Most of the way through it’s pretty simplistic, moving objects about, or moving Lilly about, to progress. But there are some very obscure challenges, usually obtusely involving colour, which don’t spell themselves out at all. Oh, the lights need to be turned all yellow, because that’s the only one that… well, I’m still not sure. The climactic puzzle, again based around colour, follows its own deeply peculiar logic I still haven’t cracked, and really have no idea how I solved it – it just sort of was at one point. Oh, okay then. Small cutscene, back in control once more… oh it’s ended.

So really this a great deal of promise, not realised to various degrees. At £7 it excuses itself from some criticisms, but I cannot imagine how anyone could complete the esoteric plot and feel any notion of satisfaction with that. It’s charming along the brief way, and it’s utterly harmless. But then it stops, and you’re left surrounded in a cloud of huh?

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and general hero of humanity.

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