Life isn’t easy. We have goals to achieve, dreams to realize... and when things seem like they are all finally coming together we’re thrown a curveball. Our plans change. We put things off for another day. And eventually…time runs out. When you look back on your life will it have been everything you thought it would be? Or will you be filled with regret?
Old Man’s Journey is a puzzle game that explores themes relating to life, love, and broken dreams. It begins along a coastline with waves crashing against the rocky shore. A quaint home sits perched atop a cliffside and the calls of seagulls can be heard overhead. An old man looks out toward the horizon, lost in thought, only to be brought back to reality when the bell from a mail carrier’s bicycle rings, demanding his attention. The old man opens the letter he was delivered and looks surprised to see who is writing him. He continues reading, looks out to the ocean one last time, and suddenly decides to load up a backpack and embark on a journey. The contents of the letter are not immediately known to the player but whatever was written has sparked something within the old man that will send him on an unexpected adventure.
Developed by the team at Broken Rules in Austria, Old Man’s Journey is a storybook come to life with puzzles that are designed to be stress-free. Each level requires players to navigate the old man’s route and clear his path. From rolling hills in the foreground to a hotel rooftop in the background, the landscape can be reshaped to bridge the scenery together in order to give the old man a direct route. Players can alter the landscape by dragging hills down or rooftops up until their connection points meet and create one clear path. Players can also interact with items within the scenery such as flicking a string of lights, tapping wind chimes, or tuning a radio in a windowsill. I found myself clicking around the screen just to see what would move or make a sound if I touched it.
To direct the old man from Point A to Point B players place stakes along the landscape. When a stake is dropped the old man will walk to that point until he’s told otherwise. However,
players cannot change the landscape while the old man is standing on it, so it’s important to plan your moves ahead of time. Alternatively, the old man won’t move if he is unable to access his path and will make an adorable grumble to let you know that something isn’t right. While the puzzles are never overtly difficult they will become increasingly more involved as you progress through the game such as shooing sheep away from location points or navigating around waterfalls.
Throughout his trek the old man will have encounters that remind him of a moment in his life.
The site of a VW bus or the sound of a bell will set him back to another place at another time in his memory. These glimpses into the old man’s mind are portrayed with beautiful vignettes showcasing monumental moments in his life such as finding love, getting married, and having a child. Players will gradually learn about the old man’s past and be given clues about what his life was like then and what it might be like for him in the present.
The tranquil art and animation are all hand-drawn frame by frame. Throughout the game the scenery transforms from sun-kissed rolling hills, to charming small villages, to darks skies and broken down windmills. The incredible interactive illustrations are stunning in their own right. But the attention to detail with sound design bring the drawings to life. Hear the rustling leaves of the trees, listen to the ground crunch beneath the old man’s feet as he treks across the land, feel the weight of his journey with the shuffling of his backpack. Additionally, the original soundtrack by SCNTFC captures the emotion in each scene and helps to set the vignettes apart from the action. For example, scoring under the vignettes sounds like it’s playing off an old record player while the score during each level has a more clear and crisp sound. It’s important for a game like this in particular to be able to convey emotion as there is no dialogue or written narrative for players to read. Sound and imagery are the only ways in which this story can be conveyed, and Old Man’s Journey has mastered how to achieve that seamlessly.
While dealing with their own struggles to find balance between work, families, and dreams, the team at Broken Rules were inspired to share their experiences through this game. They created Old Man’s Journey, “to showcase universal truths that transcend across cultures and the many stages of life.” They wanted players to connect with what the old man has dealt with and continues to deal with while reflecting on their own lives.
Old Man’s Journey is a stunning visual narrative and a compelling heartfelt experience. While it may look like a simplistic 2D game its message is far more complicated. It’s a precious and honest take on life, told with whimsical imagery and an emotionally charged soundtrack. It is currently available on iPad/iPhone, Android, Steam, itch.io, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.
Check out the trailer below: