Last Day of June
Developed by: Ovosonico
Published by: 505 Games
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4
One of the most prevalent conventions in popular entertainment today is multiverse theory, some versions of which posit that parallel realities exist alongside ours, where events play out in different combinations. “Last Day of June” is among the most recent examples, a sentimental work that follows a humble man’s quest to alter the occurrences that lead to the loss of his wife.
On a sunny day in a tiny village, a boy looks for someone to play with, a man goes hunting for a bird, and an old man delivers a gift to the home of a married couple where a woman also pays a house call. This web of interactions sets the stage for June to hit upon the idea of asking her husband Carl out for a picnic at their favorite lakeside spot. He cheerfully agrees, and they share a few tender moments in this area, which also happens to be the subject of one of June’s paintings inspired by village life. After the weather turns inclement, they hurry to their car where Carl gets behind the wheel. On the rain-slicked road, he loses control of the vehicle; June is killed, and Carl is paralyzed from the waist down.
After the accident, we find Carl seated in an easy chair whose matching twin is noticeably empty. It’s nighttime, and the sole light in the house comes from the fireplace. After Carl awakens from an uneasy dream, he moves himself into a wheelchair. Guiding him around the ground level, players come upon a room that June used for her studio. With the tap of a button, Carl can touch a painting and be drawn into one of his neighbor’s lives.
By taking on the role of Carl’s neighbors, players try to change the sequence of events that lead to the accident. Puzzles in the game are tailored to each character so there are places, for instance, that only the boy can fit through. As players progress, they gain insight into the motivations of the characters and variables surrounding the accident change. The most interesting aspect of the puzzle design is that players have to switch variables back and forth, mixing different event states, to follow the narrative to its conclusion.
Visually and thematically the game embraces warm abstractions. The bobble-headed characters have neither eyes nor mouths, and they speak in gibberish, however their emotional intonations are easily discernable. The game’s visual abstractions ease the acceptance of it its storyline. In this colorful, artificial world we don’t miss the explanation for why June’s paintings are imbued with such power.
Yet because this is an emotionally driven-game, I found the lack of direction with regard to one or two of the puzzles to be a questionable design decision. When going through the hunter’s questline, I found that I worked out the general solution to a couple of the puzzles, but because I didn’t follow a specific set of steps, I was left with the impression that I had figured wrong. While it’s possible to look up the solutions online, which I did, I wish an in-game hint prompt had popped so that I didn’t have to run around the town or disengage with it altogether. This is just a quibble, but I mention it because I think this game is best experienced in as few play sessions as possible in order to maximize its impact.
So, while I think “The Last Day of June’s” narrative flow is slightly undermined by the fact that players can spin their wheels looking for puzzle solutions, it is, on the whole, a small, vibrant game that reminds us that everyone is filled with depths that belie the selves we present to the world. And any game that turns a wheelchair-bound man into a hero while poking a bit of gentle fun at a guy running around with a gun is a game I can get behind.
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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