ICYMI: ‘Röki’ Feels Like A Dark 1980s Fantasy Film, Made Into A Game
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ICYMI is GAMINGbible's simple way of highlighting a game that's not quite brand new, maybe as much as a few months old, but that we've been playing and loving, and we really want to tell you about it.
Röki came out earlier in 2020 on PC, and earned plaudits aplenty. But it's only with its Nintendo Switch release, which came out on October 15th, that I'm finally playing through it. And that's because of two reasons. Firstly, I don't own a PC. But secondly, and more importantly, this is a game that effortlessly fits into my very enjoyable category of Bedtime Games - titles that are right at home on the only current-gen console you can comfortably snuggle down with at the end of the day, duvet pulled up to your chin.
I've played a few fantastic Bedtime Games in 2020. A Short Hike, Wide Ocean Big Jacket, I Am Dead, Coffee Talk. Games that don't demand a lot from you in terms of intense controls, so your button clicking (and potential mumbled cursing) won't disturb a slumbering partner. (Although I did have to turn the vibration off for Coffee Talk - good grief what a racket those phones make.) Games that tell an engrossing story, and can be played in convenient 'chapters' - either ones that the game determines or those you create yourself, once certain objectives are achieved. Games that gently test your faculties, without giving you a pre-sleepytimes headache, or manifesting too much in the way of frustration.
And Röki is perfect for this kind of play. It's a point-and-click styled adventure in a frosty fantasy realm with an emphasis on using relatively simple puzzles to progress its story - combine item A with item B to solve conundrum C; or manipulate this part of the environment in such a way to make this part do something new; you know the drill. And that story is a fairytale-like one about a girl whose brother is kidnapped in the night by a creature bearing the game's name; a monstrously proportioned but not necessarily nefarious beast that looms over the game's marketing materials, but is far from the only otherworldly being that the player will encounter.
There are trees with blinking eyes and magical doors, green-fingered trolls with slug infestations, small frog-like things who really don't like you trespassing in their stinking pond, and teeny gnome-like sorts who'll happily do you a favour for a bowl of slushy oats. And there are characters, monsters ostensibly, full of sorrow and sadness, whose horrific exteriors are the product of equally harrowing circumstances. A few will be torn between tolerating your presence and simply eating you, because while the heart of Röki is warm and kind, it's decidedly dark too. Its narrative tone is very fantasy-movies-in-the-1980s, but more reminiscent of The Dark Crystal than Labyrinth (with just a little of the old BBC adaptations of Narnia in the mix, too), as the player-controlled Tove searches for her lost sibling, Lars, through a series of situations that place her in great danger.
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But being a point-and-click adventure with no obvious game-over scenarios - if there are any, I'm yet to find them (no holding your breath for ten minutes, here) - these dangers are only ever hair-raising of impression. They never get under the skin, and in the blood, like actual horror games can. Which isn't to say that Röki's stylised visuals - more Saturday morning cartoons than post-watershed scares - can't convey dread, fear, or distress. Facial animations are simple but effective in communicating emotion, and the limited voice-over work does enough to convey how each character is feeling without the text dialogue needing to do the heavy lifting. Its music (by Aether, available on Spotify), too, is exquisite in its poise and purpose, delicate (and sometimes sinister) soundscapes complementing the game's widescreen snowdrifts and icy enclaves splendidly.
Röki's Scandinavian setting - both real-world and its less-recognisable parallel dimension - is a sparkling, beautiful thing, Tove's footsteps forever leaving trails in the snow but swiftly disappearing, the world resetting to its perfect state (almost like she's not supposed to be there). Its folklore inspirations, from the Arctic Circle, are woven around a story that keeps you playing through its (user-determined) chapters - it's an easy one to sit down with for a promised half-hour, as you climb into bed, but then you check the clock and two hours have passed.
Glowing in the darkness, it forever beckons you onward to finish just one more puzzle, to unlock one more item, to explore one more part of its beguiling world. To meet someone (or rather, something) new, to bring happiness to those without it, or set them free from pain that's cursed their every waking moment. It's a hard one to put down - a page-turner, if you like.
An ideally proportioned, expertly designed and wonderfully realised Bedtime Game, then. Having to delay a few months to play Röki my way wasn't ideal, as this is a game I had my eye on for some time. But the wait has been richly rewarded, and my evenings have been a joy with this shining away in front of my tired eyes. Fans of point-and-click games both old and new will find so much to love here, whether sat at their desktop computer or curled up with a handheld.
Nintendo Switch Code for this coverage was provided by the publisher, United Label.
Featured Image Credit: United Label, Polygon Treehouse
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