In the early days of computer gaming, text-based adventure games were quite common but were then followed by point-and-click adventures featuring rudimentary visuals. At the time this was pretty cutting edge stuff, and it allowed developers to tell unique and wonderful stories using what they had at their disposal. Sure, the gameplay style wasn’t for everyone, but these titles developed quite the following and seem to be making a bit of a comeback or resurgence decades later.
When I was first sent a press release for a new game called Unusual Findings, I didn’t realize that the Epic Llama Games developed title was a point-and-click adventure. This was on me, though, and I didn’t notice until I’d requested a review code. I’ll blame it on a lack of sleep, tired eyes and lots of emails, alright? Anyhow, I was a bit worried when I noticed what genre it fell under because I’ve never played many point-and-click games, nor have they ever really been my thing. However, the premise sounded too interesting to pass up and I didn’t want to decline a review code I’d requested. That wouldn’t be cool.
Upon starting Unusual Findings, I instantly fell in love with its retro, 16-bit, visuals and its 80s aesthetic. I’m someone who misses the better and simpler days of the 80s and 90s, so this is a real soft spot for me. Furthermore, I liked its characters and premise, which involves two kids sneaking out of their homes after being grounded for blowing up one’s neighbour’s prized garden. Upon meeting up with a third friend, who fills the expected nerd role, they see a strange transmission on a rigged up satellite dish before a meteor crashes into the woods near their town. Thus begins a quest to explore what landed in the trees, featuring many of the science fiction and horror tropes that made classic 80s movies so fun. Hell, the boys even have posters that are similar to movies like Star Wars and other popular films from that era.
The player controls just one of the trio, whose name is Vinny. He’s flanked by his friends, Nick and Tony, who follow him everywhere and can occasionally be spoken to in or out of cutscenes. Vinny is a good kid who was corrupted by a bad influence, that being Nick, whereas Tony is the nerd if I remember correctly. Together, the trio must explore their town and its borders in order to discover what is going on, and if their quiet home is in danger.
As you’d expect, everything is handled by using a cursor of sorts and pointing to where you want to go before pressing a button. It’s a very simple and dated concept, and one that generally still works well, although it’s far from perfect here. I applaud the developers for wanting to create a retro inspired point-and-click affair that would pay homage to classic 80s movies, but they put way too many things in the player’s way. What do I mean by that? Well, in a game where you regularly revisit different parts of town — be it the three characters’ different neighbourhoods, the main drag, the remote science building, the bridge or the woods — you’d think you’d be able to quickly go from one side to the other. That isn’t the case, because your cursor is often obstructed by locked cars or other things that are of no use to you. This means you’ll likely often end up wasting time reading the same dialogue pop-up about a car being locked, because you accidentally clicked on it while trying to walk past the movie theatre and comics/toy store.
Before we move on, it’s important to mention that the game’s overworld maps are laid across the screen like a paper one would be. They’re colourful and detailed, and show different neighbourhoods, streets or rooms that you can explore. To put it simply, the entire town is shown on the first map you’ll use, and you can select which region of it you’d like to go to next. There are all of the ones I mentioned above, plus a lover’s lookout and a trailer park where a friendly, video game and pizza loving criminal lives. Then, when you move on to the next region, all of its rooms are shown on a map and you can select which one to go to.
Unusual Findings is, unsurprisingly, a puzzle-centric game, and I’ll admit that I’ve never been that genre’s biggest fan. It’s why I don’t play a lot of point-and-click games, and why you don’t often see me reviewing puzzle games. I admittedly get a bit anxious when I’m offered one, because even if the premise is of interest I always worry that I’ll get so far and then get stuck and not be able to finish the game. That happened here, which is why I stopped playing until the game released and I could find a walkthrough. This is a challenging experience, and one that doesn’t hold your hand. Its puzzles can be pretty obtuse, and it can be hard to figure out what to do next. I spent a good amount of time basically bashing my head against a wall, by revisiting different rooms and trying different things, with no luck. I did realize that I had to feed something three times instead of just one, which is all that I had done, but then became stuck again. In reading others’ reviews, I’ve noticed that others had the same issues, so I don’t feel too bad now.
Like its peers, this game uses an inventory system which resides in Vinny’s duffel bag. As you explore each area of the game world, you’ll discover different items, or have to combine a couple to achieve a goal. Some are also only obtained by performing certain tasks, like trading a working game cartridge into the comics and toy store, or getting a teenage girl off of the phone. Neither one is easy, or player-friendly, though. For instance, I didn’t notice that one of my button prompts had changed to say “Blow into the cartridge” instead of something that would normally let me talk to others. On top of that, although the girl told me where she was going — with an item I thought I needed — I couldn’t find her afterwards.
When I became stuck, I had tons of random things in my inventory but couldn’t figure out what to do with them. The answers ended up being kind of surprising and obtuse, which is par for the course with this game. I won’t be surprised if most people will resort to guides to finish it. It’s something I try not to do, though, because I feel like I’m cheating, but I’ve had to a few times in recent memory and I didn’t feel too bad about it this time around.
The thing is: it’s usually not that difficult to figure out what has to be done, but the game won’t always let you do so. There’s usually some weird, additional step that needs to be completed first, and that’s where the confusion and frustration really set in. If not for that, this would be a more enjoyable experience.
On the presentation side of things, Unusual Findings is pretty impressive. Although it’s a retro experience that isn’t too demanding or visually intensive, it looks good, performs well and is nostalgic because of its setting and content. I enjoyed those things most, as well as the friendship that the three boys shared. The dialogue choices weren’t always as helpful or as interesting as I would’ve liked, but that’s part of the issue with this game and I don’t need to go over those things again. Moving on, the music and audio effects are also pretty good and fit the experience. They’re comforting in a nostalgic way.
If you’re a fan of point-and-click adventure games, and someone who’s played through a number of them, you may not have such a hard time with Unusual Findings. Then again, that may not be the case. This is a neat, rather well made and interesting game with a fun storyline, which evokes comparisons to Stranger Things, The X-Files, E.T. and The Goonies, but it’s often so obtuse and challenging that it becomes frustrating. If the puzzles weren’t so involved and confusing, and there weren’t so many steps required to complete them, this would be a much easier game to recommend. As it stands, it’s merely middling, which is too bad. The building blocks for a good game are here; they’re just not placed well enough.
This game was reviewed on an Xbox Series S, using a code that was provided by its publisher.
- An interesting and nostalgic story
- A good setting
- Is fun when things click and work as expected
- Obtuse, confusing and frustating puzzles
- Too frustrating for its own good
- Cluttered environments make movement cumbersome