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Imagine that quest in Oblivion where you get stuck in a painting, but it's a whole puzzle game now

Gee, Satan, you know what I really hate? Bay windows and a lot of outdoor space

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was one of the first games I bought for myself rather than playing whatever my older brother brought home. I saw my mate playing Oblivion at his house and alas, etiquette dictated that I could not simply steal it. I'm glad I got a copy all for myself, though, because one of the most memorable quests I found in it was called A Brush With Death, partly because the name is a very funny, low effort pun. In A Brush With Death, you see, you go after an artist who has become trapped in his own painting.

It also reminded me of the bit at the start of terrifying children's tale The Witches by Roald Dahl, where a little girl gets trapped inside a painting in her family's house, where they watch her grow old and eventually die. So imagine a game that is basically entirely that. Surprise! It exists, and it's called Summertime Madness, a first-person puzzle game where a sad artist living in 1940s Prague makes a deal with the devil. He gets to live in one of his nice paintings for six hours - but if he doesn't get out before midnight, he's trapped forever. And you know what? Big deal. These paintings are lovely.

Made by Italian studio DP Games, there's a lot to like about Summertime Madness beside my personal glee at the trapped in a painting mini-trope. The time limit angle is really cool, and Summertime Madness builds it further into your adventure by linking it to the hint system. At any time you can look at a large, old pocket watch to check how much time you have left and ask for a little wink-wink nudge-nudge in the right direction - but every hint costs you 15 precious minutes. Yikers. That's only four hints to an hour. That's a worse ROI than [thumbs through rolodex of lazy jokes] being in a relationship with me, hey-oh!

Many of the puzzles involve levers and switches, opening the right doors or moving the right bits around in the right sequence. It works well with the theme because you inevitably start getting frantic at the time it takes to run between them and figure it all out. I need that time, dammit! The first area is a little boat that unfolds like a puzzlebox and becomes a sort of luxury boat crossed with a treehouse. Every time you manage to reach, and ring, a ship's bell, a new area of it springs into existence.

It was at this point that I was like "... Nah, I'd just stay here to be honest."

A view from the upper deck of the wooden puzzle ship in Summertime Madness, showing a beautiful river valley
Yeah, I could live here.

I mean, Summertime Madness does eventually get a bit more, I dunno, psychological, I guess? But sheesh, I'd hang around that sunny starting area forever. It's got a slight painterly feel to it, too. It doesn't look hand-painted, per se, but you can see the individual brushstrokes. It also feels like a painting because it's so ideal and picturesque. The colours are beautiful and vibrant, like a late summer afternoon. The grass is long and whispers in such a relaxing way. The trees are neat but feel random enough in their placement to be natural. They say the devil has the best tunes, right? Well, he also has the best landscaping.

A Brush With Death had a similarly lovely setting - the sky, in particular, was a permanent sunset, with bright blue fading into pink. Now, granted it did actually have some danger in it thanks to the trolls made of paint, but when you think about the setting of Cyrodill in general (which is full of not only actual trolls but also literal portals to hell popping up all over the place), the painting world is arguably the safer one.

In general, I think becoming an artist, painting an exquisite landscape, and then making a shady deal with Satan might be the easiest route to home ownership I have. Like, is it terrible for a child to be trapped in an oil painting? Sure. But if that kid in The Witches had been in her 30s she would have really appreciated a large country house with several rooms and a flock of geese. All rent free.

About the Author

Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

RPS's dep ed. Small person powered by tea and enthusiasm for video game romances. Send me interesting etymological facts and cool horror games.

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