Although it began life as a Game Awards-nominated mobile title in 2017, Broken Rules’ silent narrative puzzle game Old Man’s Journey has just made its official console debut on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a unique gem that successfully combines environmental puzzle solving and narrative storytelling, and the end result is something truly special that shouldn’t go overlooked by the console’s rabid fanbase.
The game begins with an elderly man receiving a letter in the post. Old Man’s Journey presents the player with absolutely no dialogue or voice-overs, so it’s up to you to interpret the story as it plays out between puzzles through handcrafted vignettes. Apparently, the news is dire, so the man grabs his backpack, fetches his walking stick, and heads off on an emotional journey of self-reflection.
Conveying a meaningful narrative without the use of dialogue or text is a tough nut to crack, but the fine folks at Broken Rules kept it simple enough to follow along. I had quite the opposite reaction last year when I played through the silent detective story of Virginia, which left me scratching my head more than feeling enlightened. What plays out here is a tad predictable, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less relatable and poignant as it’s pieced together within the vignettes. It’s a wonderful reflection of one man’s life choices, even if the subject matter doesn’t reinvent the wheel.
On the gameplay front, the player is tasked with raising and lowering layers in the environment to allow the nameless man to walk to the next screen. It begins by simply raising one hill to meet another, since paths must touch for him to continue forward, but becomes a bit more complex over the game’s two-hour runtime. Waterfalls cause him to fall to the layer below, pesky sheep must be clicked to scare them away, and large stone wheels need to be lifted and rolled to break through walls, amongst other things.
Old Man’s Journey provides a satisfying challenge throughout, with some of the stages being real head-scratchers. However, none of them were mind-bogglingly tough, nor did the game ever stray from being accessible. You can’t “lose” the game, after all. It’s meant to be a relaxing puzzle game that just so happens to deliver an endearing story in an unconventional manner.
In addition to its unique puzzle elements and wonderful story, Old Man’s Journey has an almost storybook feel within its visuals. With each stage containing multiple layers to stretch and shift, it was like playing around in a pop-up book version of the NES classic Gyromite. Accompanying the handcrafted visual flare is an equally beautiful soundtrack that’s perfectly befitting of the game’s sense of adventure.
Since Old Man’s Journey was originally a touch-based mobile title, its transition to the common controller feels a tad sluggish. There are no cursor speed options in the settings menu, which was only slightly bothersome as it sometimes felt like pulling a cursor through molasses (especially while turning objects or during a mid-game train level where you have to manipulate the environment at a quicker pace). It does retain all of the touch functionality of the mobile version while playing in handheld mode, which is probably the ideal way to experience it.
There’s also no clear indicator of when the game transitions to the next chapter, though in retrospect I believe each vignette acts as an auto-save marker. There is no “start” screen, just a chapter select, so quitting out did set me back a few screens without proper warning. Since there is no “game over” screen and the overall experience is quite short, the consequence of this boils down to a minor quibble.
For the cost of the average movie ticket, Old Man’s Journey provides a fantastic, memorable adventure of choice and consequence and slathers it atop a truly remarkable puzzle game that would have already been enjoyable on its own.
We do not use a scoring system here at Cheap Boss Attack. Hopefully, you found the above information far more informative than an arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes.
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of a review.