I like demos, especially when they’re self-contained narrative slices that compliment the core game. Wide Ocean Big Jacket takes more of an excerpt approach with theirs, an appropriate choice given the narrative oriented gameplay. It’s not quite a visual novel, nor is it an adventure game, or even a walking simulator, in fact it feels more like chatting with an old friend on a nice stroll through the woods, and it has some of the more believable writing I’ve come across in an indie game lately.
So let’s step out and enjoy the nice weather with Meryl & Alan, shall we?
It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of twee games, something about their deep commitment to surface level aesthetics at the cost of subtext fails to sit well with me. That isn’t to say that I don’t like cute or pleasant games, but things like Untitled Goose Game failed to grab me in quite the same way it did for so many, especially when there are plenty of wonderful titles that feature pastel visuals like Night In The Woods that still have some bite to their bark.
What a lot of twee games are trying to go for is a certain sense of levity, but far too often they wind up leaning on notions of absurdist slapstick humor in the case of Goose, or they attempt to scratch a very Nintendo-esque itch I don’t have like A Short Hike. That isn’t to say these games aren’t valid or worthwhile, but they didn’t work for me, failing to hook my interest in the same way they hooked everyone else, and that’s okay.
But Wide Ocean Big Jacket has a very different kind of vibe. The pleasant presentation feels like a strong foundation for the charming writing to build on, there’s no saccharine sweetness to be found here nor any world-shattering drama to be unearthed. Meryl & Alan in particular are incredibly endearing in the way they portray a long-standing casual friendship between two older individuals, Meryl with her need to vocalize every thought that comes to mind and Alan serving as her comically stoic foil. It’s a dynamic instantly recognizable to anyone who’s been around a pair of characters like this in our daily lives, and it’s what gives them such remarkable staying power.
Meryl is likable, really likable, so is Alan, they never fight or get snarky, nor do they wax on endlessly about the good ol’ days, they’re just two normal people living their lives. Wide Ocean does a really smart thing here, when it comes time to walk over to the golf cart in order to drive along the beach, you control the movement of both characters. It’s not something I’ve seen in any other game and for whatever reason it resonated with me on a deep level: the idea that you control a duo. The inherent inclusiveness of that small functionality speaks volumes about how the game’s narrative recognizes and treats the relationships between the cast. We could’ve very easily just controlled Meryl for the entire demo, but the fact that they walk side by side is a physical representation of their daily repertoire synchronized, their mutual familiarity with each other’s routine.
The dialogue system is particularly unique in the way it delivers lines to the viewer, totally blocking the artistic visuals from view and giving the player a moment to both focus on the exchanges and reflect on the scenery. By creating an absence of visuals our appreciation for them grows, giving a feeling of living in the moment instead of growing tiresome with the slow pace.
It’s a game about taking your time and enjoying the small things, and I don’t think I’ve had a demo make me giggle this much in a while. Wide Ocean may be gentle but it is far from lacking a sense of humor. From the suspicious teen in the woods accusing Meryl of being a forest cop, to Alan’s small blissfully oblivious quips in response to nearly everything, the writing has a fantastic cadence that falls easy on the eyes and puts the mind at ease.
Aside from these interactions, the gameplay is simple in this small vingette- pick up trash, find a lost cellphone, and have quiet conversation in the golf cart. Sometimes it’s just nice to take in the scenery and spend a pleasantly serene moment with a loved one, it’s a feeling that Wide Ocean nails right out of the gate; it’s a demo that serves its purpose effectively and left me feeling extremely enthusiastic for the full game, which came out earlier this year in February.
Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I haven’t heard much about it online. If this one flew under your radar too then perhaps this will be the nudge you need to give it a go, you can find it on Steam and the Nintendo Switch. So take a stroll, chat with an old friend, and spend a few moments taking the fullness of life’s rich tapestry in, it’s something we could all do with right now.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice