Machineboy, developer of Milkmaid of the Milky Way, is an award-winning Norwegian developer bringing us a brand new point and click adventure in the form of Embracelet. A wonderful indie title crafted by the one-man army that is Mattis Folkestad, set in his native Norway and filled to the brim with cultural nuance that makes it both unique and refreshing to play.
Story – Not Your Average Coming Of Age Story
Embracelet is a charming and emotionally charged coming of age story. Don’t let this fool you, as it is one with depth unlike any other I have personally played and enjoyed. You take on the role of Jesper, a 17 year old boy living in a city in the Southern part of Norway.
The story kicks off as Jesper visits his grandfather, Leif, at a nursing home. Leif is in poor health, and ultimately sets the story in motion by giving Jesper a magical bracelet he found when he was young. It’s clear that Leif is in poor health, and that he does not have long left to live.
Leif wants Jesper to go to Slepp, the island he grew up on, to try to figure out the origins of the mysterious bracelet. He must not tell anyone about it, and he must never use it on another human being. Leif has done something he regrets, and that he wants to make things right through his grandson. However, he refuses to divulge what it is he so regrets, and it is up to you to figure that out once you make your way to Slepp.
They don’t waste time establishing that Jesper is struggling with school, and generally has a pretty dull life with few friends. He lives with his mother, who is stressed not only about her father’s poor health, but also with a demanding job. She flat out refuses to let him go by himself to Slepp, and this is where the game really starts.
One way or another, you have to get there, and it isn’t long before you are presented with various choices – Do you silently accept your mother’s decision and hope for her to change her mind, or do you take advantage of the fact that she rushed off to work leaving her credit card behind on the kitchen counter?
There isn’t a huge set of characters, since most of the game takes place on a small island in the far north of Norway. The main ones being Hermod and Karoline who are around the same age as Jesper.
These Characters both contrast and compliment each other. They are also presented as love interests. Karoline felt a sense of belonging on the island, while Hermod can’t wait to leave.
Embracelet focused mostly on solving the mystery of the bracelet and its origins, but also tells the story of an old and isolated fishing town that is slowly being deserted while some of the residents are hanging on and trying to turn things around.
There are stories within the story – you learn about the struggles of the residents, about their hopes and dreams for the future, as well as some of the threats the island faces in a world filled with corporate greed.
An important aspect of this game that I want to talk about is where it takes place, being a small island in the far northern part of Norway. This is a very unusual setting for a game, and it was a hugely refreshing game to play because of this.
Sure, there isn’t a lot going on. It’s mostly old folks on the island, most of the buildings are dilapidated or have fallen apart completely, but there is a certain magic to the setting that is unlike anything else.
The setting tells a story all its own of urbanization, and how the marks left behind by humanity are slowly washed away by nature. There is also a story of how humanity lives and thrives in harmony with the ocean, and how disrespecting or underestimating the ocean can easily be a death wish.
Gameplay – Puzzle And Explore As You Like
The puzzling elements were satisfying in a way that reminded me a little of Untitled Goose Game. These mostly took place by using the bracelet to interact with an object that you highlighted with the cursor using the right stick. The whimsical nature of the puzzles, coupled with Jesper’s sometimes goofy and humorous commentary had me crack a smile on more than one occasion throughout the game.
Being a story driven game, the puzzles were fun but were not challenging to the point where they interfered with the flow of the story. To complete a puzzle, usually you would have to interact with various objects in a certain order. Sometimes, this had unforeseen consequences.
The game would have suffered considerably from the controls had it not been so story driven. It’s not that it controls badly, it can just be a little awkward at times. With one stick, you control Jesper, and with the other you control a cursor that you use to highlight and select items you want to interact with.
The camera is where the problem comes in – it’s either fixed or moves automatically and can be tricky to work with in some cases.
That said, once you arrive on Slepp you can pretty much roam around as you please, figuring things out as you go along.
Personally, I found this agency refreshing as the game does not force you in a particular direction and rather nudges you here and there.
When activating the bracelet, you are presented with a pair of rings. It’s a simple yet effective method not unlike the average quicktime event where you have to hit a button as the rings meet. The difficulty of these events can be adjusted for the reflex challenged, but I found the default setting to be just fine.
Graphics And Audio – A Macular Marvel
While the camera might be a little unwieldy at times, Embracelet is a progressively more and more beautiful game. The use of colour is fantastic, and this cannot be emphasized enough.
Starting out, when Jesper is still in the South of Norway, the palette is greyed out and bland as one might imagine the city, and this almost functions as a symbol of Jesper’s mood and state of mind.
As the game progresses, the colour palette becomes progressively richer with gorgeous displays to behold, from beautiful twilights and ocean vistas the sheer variety and liveliness of this sleepy little island really took me by surprise.
Simply put, Embracelet is a visual marvel. The character models might seem to have far too few polygons for some people, but to me that was the entire point – the color does the work, not the polygon count, and makes for an aesthetic delight in a way I have not experienced in perhaps my entire gaming career.
In terms of audio, the soundtrack is as emotive as the story yet understated so as not to diminish the focus on the visual aspects. I wouldn’t say it’s memorable in this regard, but I think the developer intended for the focus to be on the visuals.
There is no voice acting to speak of, simply the magnificent work using shape and color to give each character their flavor. This unique approach makes Embracelet much more than just a game – it’s a work of art.
I reviewed Embracelet on Nintendo Switch. A key was provided by Machineboy.