Earthworms (Switch) Review
Painted look art style
Odd, yet captivating, story
Does a forgotten genre justice
Interactive items blend in too much
Vision mechanic was underdeveloped and underwhelming
Visions of the Past
Some genres age like a fine wine, and in fact, I find myself frequently booting up old platformers and beat-em-ups to go on a nostalgia trip for a few hours. As genres like these go in and out of fashion, there is one particular genre that always seems to get shafted: point-and-click adventure games.
Short of Telltale Games’ spectacular titles, such as The Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, and Sierra’s King’s Quest: The Complete Collection, there simply aren’t as many of these games floating around. Chalk it up to a combination of lack of demand and the allocation of development resources towards games that are more likely to be successful, such as open-world RPGs or an endless wave of first-person shooters. Game makers want to make games and money. Go figure.
Thus, as is wont to occur in these situations, indie developers are here to pick up the slack, to fill the void, and to deliver some of the oddest gameplay experiences this side of Deadly Premonition. In this case, the developer in question is All Those Moments, a Polish studio that has made it their mission to bring gamers that fuzzy feeling they got as kids, gripping the computer mouse with stars in their eyes. Their offering this time around is Earthworms, a (you guessed it) point-and-click adventure game that has been retooled for the Nintendo Switch, after a successful launch on PC earlier this year.
The player assumes the role of Daniel White, a hard-boiled private detective who immediately informs us that he has visions, visions that help him solve cases. Before long, a run-of-the-mill missing person case turns into a conspiracy, so I hope you brought your tinfoil hats, folks. While the story balloons into a nonsensical, yet engaging romp through a variety of locations, the gameplay itself is what you’d expect.
That is to say, you point and you click. This can be achieved by moving the analog stick, if playing while docked, or by touching the screen if playing in handheld mode. I found that both control methods worked fine, but both suffered from the same issue: it’s simply too difficult to decipher what can be interacted with, thanks to the bleeding, watercolor art style.
If you’ve ever watched a Saturday morning cartoon, there is a pretty big visual distinction between an object that is part of the background, and one that is about to be touched, used, or messed with in some way by a character. This is usually indicated by a bolder color palette, or sharper lines, or something like that.
While I understand that these are two different mediums I’m comparing, I wish that one of the artists had taken the initiative to do something, anything, that would highlight the items the player can interact with. This frequently led to me touching just about everything in a room in order to make something happen, which might have been acceptable thirty years ago, but is quite frustrating in this day and age.
Once the players finds items they can interact with, there is usually some information divulged about the item, and whether or not it is useful to our fedora’d hero. This is integral to solving puzzles, gathering intel from other characters, and ultimately solving the mystery about the strange tentacles creeping across the environments.
These puzzles felt very logical, in general, which is a huge plus for a game like this. While it is possible to play an adventure game with a walkthrough pulled up in case you get stuck, I feel that it takes away some of the pride that comes with solving a head scratcher, or finally finding a purpose for that item you found like an hour ago. Though there are multiple endings to this bizarre adventure, which is liberally interspersed with quirky dialogue and a few giggle-inducing translation errors, a playthrough should only last a few hours at most. This leaves plenty of reason to jump back in and experience it again to try to see every ending, if you’re so inclined.
One other area of complaint that I have, since you asked, is regarding the vision mechanic. I figured that it would play a more pivotal role, given the importance it is given in the narrative, but the hints that it attempted to offer were of little help or value, and I found that I was pretty well-off on my own. A neat idea, for sure, but something that either should’ve been expanded upon, or perhaps dropped altogether.
The art style was one of my favorite aspects of the game, barring the complaints about interactive items (see rant above). It is unabashedly inspired by Edward Hopper, the American realist painter, and meshes surprisingly well with the odd aesthetic All Those Moments is gunning for. The music was similarly off-kilter, but I never found it grating. Overall, from a presentation standpoint, the game shines, and it does what good game presentation is supposed to do: tie everything together and really help sell the immersive experience.
Earthworms was an interesting experience. I appreciate All Those Moments, and their dedication to showing some love to a genre that defined gaming for many people, but that many newer gamers would scoff at. In their effort to craft something new, yet also nostalgic, they created a quirky and engaging point-and-click adventure that harkens back to days gone, while eliminating some of the frustration that tended to arise in some of the old adventure games of yore. Of course, these frustrations were replaced with new ones, but I believe the good outweighs the bad in this indie gem. Put on your trenchcoat and download a copy of Earthworms, available on the Switch for $7.99, and Steam for $5.99.