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Small and lovely, July 9, 2021
Aesthetics predominate in Waiting for the Day Train, a game of two parts: this Adventuron amuse-bouche presents a non-interactive pixel-art opening, and then segues over to photographs to accompany the puzzle-solving gameplay. Living up to my expectations for Adventuron, both parts are absolutely gorgeous, and while I’m not sure they ultimately cohere into a united whole, they’re individually well worth experiencing.
It feels a bit odd to lead off a review of a parser game emphasizing what you look at rather than what you read, but I suspect even the most prose-focused of players will have the same response I did. The prologue section is well-written, with an intriguing opening line (“The night is a different world”) leading into some efficiently-conveyed backstory about the main character’s efforts to escape a world of tormenting spirits about to be thrust into everlasting night. But it’s the pictures that accompany the writing that really make an impression: they’re moody, all black and beige and gray, with fat pixels of raindrops streaking the screen; your character, a robed, faceless figure a la Bobbin Threadbare, seems authentically beleaguered just from their posture and way of holding themself.
Once day breaks and you head to the station to catch your train, the visuals completely transform, with the night-time pixel art replaced by photographs. You’ve fallen asleep in the forest near the station, and the environment here is absurdly lush, with the green landscape half-concealing sturdy old wooden bridges and lovely, weathered stonework. These photos create a day-world that’s absurdly pleasant and welcoming, bucolic and nostalgic all at once.
Getting to the train before the time limit is a matter of solving three or four simple puzzles, none of which are very challenging on their own but do put you up against a time limit. While this did mean I had to restart my first playthrough due to overmuch faffing about, the short playtime made the replay painless, and without the deadline the puzzles might feel a bit thin. They’re standard sorts of thing – districting a flock of birds, feeding a hungry animal – enlivened by a bit of unexplained magic, but primarily serve to give you something to do as you explore the lovely setting. The implementation is largely solid, too, with the only niggle I ran into some confusion about how to retrieve a gem from the stream after I’d spied it trapped by some stepping-stones: (Spoiler - click to show)since it was described as being right near the stones, I’d thought a simple TAKE GEM should work, on one bank or the other – CLIMB ON STONES is what eventually worked to put me in the middle of the crossing, where I could pick the jewel up, but that seemed a bit unintuitive to me.
My only real critique is that it was hard for me to tonally reconcile the peaceful, welcoming daylit world with the foreboding and terrible nighttime (oh, and that reminds me, there’s a typo with “forboding” subbed in for “foreboding” – only error I noticed). The contrast certainly made me want to make sure I stayed in the daytime and didn’t get trapped in the world of eternal night. But while I intellectually understood my character as desperate, rain-soaked and rushing to reach their last chance for escape, the lovely photos made the daytime section so peaceful, homey, and pleasant that the urgency drained away, and I enjoyed it more as a hang-out game, with the challenges feeling less like barriers and more like a prompt to slow down and spend time in a beautiful place. Still, I can’t find much to complain about getting two different aesthetically engaging experiences in one short game, and I found Waiting for the Day Train very much worth a play.