Something is rotten at the heart of Earthworms and it’s the job of Daniel White, a private investigator plagued by visions, to uncover it. In this point and click adventure from Polish developer All Those Moments, published here on Switch by SONKA, you’ll take on White’s role and delve into one of the most surreal adventure experiences we’ve ever encountered.
Earthworms is so chock full of influences it rattles. From the works of twentieth-century realist painter Edward Hopper, to the tentacle-filled visions of HP Lovecraft, and the suspenseful horror of Stephen King. The dev team claims to loathe boring stories; whilst you may level many accusations at Earthworms as you unravel its 2-3 hour story, boring will never be one of them.
Opening in White’s office, you’ll quickly get to grips with the control scheme. Just point and click to move around the environment, examine objects, interact and, in some cases, collect items in your inventory. You’ll use or combine items to solve puzzles you’ll encounter throughout the story. The natural interface of the genre is mouse and keyboard; Earthworms offers a serviceable controller scheme, if not the best we’ve seen on a console port. Playing handheld, though, lets you use touches in place of clicks, and it works marvellously.
Right from the start, the game subverts your expectations. Opening like a Mike Hammer pulp-noir, things take a surreal turn when a man dressed as a tree asks you to look into the case of a missing girl. And it only gets darker from there. The game’s 34 locations, each rendered like an oil painting, get progressively stranger, populated by weird and disturbing characters. All the while, White’s narration becomes increasingly odd and whimsical, and his visions become ever more surreal.
All this weirdness only serves to draw you ever more deeply in to the story. You’ll move from location to location with a growing, grim fascination with the events unfolding in front of you. There’s no voice over to jar or distract; everything is written on screen, from White’s narration to his dialogue-tree interaction with the game’s characters. His observations on the locations you visit and the objects you encounter are particularly amusing.
As well as the usual point and click game play, you’ll encounter puzzles with which you’ll interact directly. None are hard and are generally variations on a theme, but each is a distraction which help punctuate the game and add variety.
White’s visions also help punctuate the experience. Bucking modern pop-culture, White’s visions are at best only a mild help in his investigations – he’s definitely not iZombie’s Liv. Each vision gets added to a separate inventory and can be replayed at any time.
The visions’ abstract nature often hints at what your next step should be, though this is often only apparent after you’ve worked out what that next step should be some other way. Cue cries of, “Oh, that’s what that meant!”
White will try to interpret each one for you, but much of the time he seems as baffled as the rest of us. Their real purpose, then, seems to be to remind us that this isn’t any ordinary missing person story.
Earthworms’ story is a homage to the great B-movie sci-fi horror films of the fifties and sixties, where our reluctant hero pulls at one seeming tiny thread with huge and unexpected consequences. There’s no doubting All Those Moments’ own vision for Earthworms – an epic adventure that subverts expectations and transfixes you with every plot twist and turn. And, to their credit, they nearly pull it off.
Nearly. Unfortunately, the vision mechanism just doesn’t work as intended. As entertaining as they are, rarely did a vision help us unravel the next plot point; most were either far too abstract or pointlessly on-the-nose. And while playing on touch-screen is great, we found that using a controller wasn’t an intuitive experience.
Neither issue stopped us from enjoying Earthworms. And the occasional dodgy English translation only added to the surreal air that permeates the experience. But because Earthworms tries to do so much, enough of it sticks to make for an interesting few hours. Consequently, Earthworms is one for point and click fans, or those with a love of surreal horror.
Earthworms is available from the eShop for £7.19 / $7.99 USD.
Release Date: 24 August 2018 on Nintendo Switch. The game enjoyed a Steam release in February 2018.
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HP Lovecraft meets Mickey Spillane.
- Overall - 7/107/10
All Those Moments brings surreal horror and no small amount of style to the point and click genre, with hand-painted visuals and a suitably eerie sound track. Not every element of Earthworms works, but enough do to make this an interesting game that will appeal to fans of the genre.
Amazingly, prone to intermittent fits of unexplained optimism. Lived alone and liked it so much he bought the company. Wouldn’t mind being a little less clever and a little more handsome. Arranges words into painstakingly grammatically correct order for a living.Likes: Sunshine, TV, couch, cats.Dislikes: Rain, people, arranging words into painstakingly grammatically correct order. Wonders why he even bothers. Sometimes thinks about why he is the way he is; doesn’t come up with any answers.