At the time of its release, “Loom” featured some of the most fetching animation sequences I had ever seen in a game. And its cartoonish narrative was leagues ahead of the stories I remember from the console games of that era. (Sorry, I never played “Earthbound.”) Loom’s interface also set it apart. Spells in the game were cast by playing a series of musical notes on a distaff. Similar instrumental techniques would later show up in other titles such as “The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.” Video games have obviously come a long way from the days when adventure games were the go-to category for people looking for the splashiest art and most developed storylines, but the last couple of years have seen a renewed interest in the genre. “Broken Age” drew a groundswell of support from financial backers on Kickstarter, and a game like “1979 Revolution,” which focuses on the Iranian revolution, proves that the genre is still capable of incubating fresh ideas.
“Samorost 3” is a strange, beautifully-animated game that recalled for me the glory of “Loom.” It, too, features a hooded main character who channels magic out of music. The hero of the game is a cutesy-looking gnome who comes into possession of a magic horn after it drops from the sky and lands in front of his home which doubles as an observatory. Finding it, he toots out a quick melody. A tour of the neighboring area reveals a verdant hill, crested by a small onion patch where one particularly gargantuan onion towers above the rest. Approach it and you’ll see a few pulsing lines — sound waves, basically — emanating in front of the onion. This serves as a clue for you to try your horn in its vicinity. Doing so causes a comic-book-like speech bubble to rise in front of it showing the gnome soaring through space in an onion spaceship with a domed top.
If you saunter past the field and down a pathway, you’ll see a mechanic toiling away on an engine. He halts his labor when you click on him. Through picture bubbles the gnome relays his vision and the mechanic tells him what parts will be needed to transform the onion into a cosmic chariot. Once you acquire the parts and get the spaceship aloft, you’ll travel between moon and planets in a quest to rid the galaxy of a menacing presence.
Cliché as this setup is, the overall questline is winsomely alien. The game’s music and surrealistic artwork, which runs the gamut from a hairy-looking comet to a flying piece of driftwood that’s interlaced with a network of glass termite chambers, are inspired. So are the game’s puzzles. One of my favorites involved plucking the antennae of an insect. Twang them in the correct order and the resulting harmony metamorphosizes the insect and the environment around you into things of nocturnal beauty.
“Loom” came packaged with a manual that stated that the game was meant to be completed. Industry insiders have long known that large swathes of players never make it to the credits. “Samorost 3” is a game that’s designed to be finished, but the game communicates this, as it does everything else, non-verbally. (Even something as routine as its continued playing or exit function is denoted as an arrow and a checkmark.) In order to prevent player frustration there is an in-game hint book (accessed by hitting the escape button) that is locked like a safe. Rotate its dials to line up a series of crimson nodes and you’ll unlock a picture book with answers to a nearby environmental puzzles. I admit, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize this, which is a shame since it would have spared me the indignity of resorting to youtube walkthroughs when I got stuck.
“Samorost 3” is the kind of game that I’d recommend to parents looking for something to play with their young children, or to anyone with a whimsical disposition. It is as transporting as a richly-dyed scarf wafting through the air.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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