The Land Down Under

by The Marino Family

Episode 4 of Mrs. Wobbles
2020

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Number of Reviews: 3
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A paper chase, December 8, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

I dunno Ė on this one Iím slack-jawed, donít have much to say.

Ösorry.

Anyway, The Land Down Under, which Iím going to call LDU from here on out to avoid further temptation to quote Men at Work, is an appealing fantasy adventure with a moral and an entertainingly-realized world, plus some jokes that, unlike the one at the top of this review, actually work.

The fantastical bit of the premise is immediately grabby Ė the player character needs to explore a magic sort of paper-doll world to find other kids whoíve been sucked into it Ė but I have to admit I found the character introductions, and the emotional dynamics between them, made for a somewhat confusing opening. I suspect this is because I havenít played the earlier games in this series, though LDU does draw attention to their existence and even includes links to play them in-game, so thatís on me I suppose. Still, given that the heart of the game is the relationship between Lin, Wanda, and Peter, I felt like I had to fill in those details based on what I learned once in paperworld, rather than coming into it with a strong understanding of them from the real-world sections.

Once Lin is shrunk down and paperfied, though, I experienced charm overload. The mechanics of how this paper world work are clearly thought through and delightfully presented, both in a playful narrative voice and the occasional illustration that really fits the storybook vibe. Iíll spoiler-block two of my favorite bits so as not to ruin things: (Spoiler - click to show)trying to surf the breeze as a paper-person was super fun, and the kitchen table that flips from breakfast to dinner back to breakfast was a great gag!

There are lots of choice along the way, and the game clearly signposts which are important by presenting them as an exclusive list at the end of a passage, with regular progression and exploration handled with inline links. There are some dead-ends, but thereís an undo mechanic thatís sufficiently generous to make them not feel punitive, as well as providing a further reward for poking beyond the critical path.

Surprisingly to me, LDU does touch on some relatively heavy themes Ė not just the expected look at escapism and conformity, but there are also hits of trauma, divorce, and depression around the edges. This is done with a light touch, though: they add weight and some added significance to the story without creating a tonal mismatch by dragging things into grimdarkness.

I did run into issue that I think is a bug, though Iíll hide it since it involves a mechanical spoiler (I also believe it may have been fixed in a mid-Comp update). (Spoiler - click to show)After I found the second part of the poem right after getting to school, I was asked if I wanted to trade in my poetry power for extra jetpacks. When I said yes, the story put me back to where I was when I found the first half of the poem, just before entering the paper world. I was able to replay and then finish the game with no further issues, though). But overall the implementation was smooth, allowing me to focus on experiencing the heartfelt story.