Old Man’s Journey plays more like a virtual pop-up book than a game. However, that statement should no way discredit the impact of my experience with it. It’s a quick playthrough, with little to no replay value, but is remedied by an endearing illustrative art-style, charming aesthetic, and in the end, left me emotionally shook, delivering a simple and effective tale that’ll surely be true for ages.
The game begins with a burly old man receiving a letter. With no indication of what it says, it leads him to pack his bags and head out from his quaint seaside home,
The game features no tutorials, nor are they necessary. Intuitively I began clicking around the screen, interacting with the surroundings, and pointing the old man on where to go. Instead of traditionally moving left and right, you guide the old man further into the foreground by shifting and manipulating the terrain.
And though its lack of tutorials are welcomed, it would have been nice to know that there were several ways to play. Which is by touching the screen, using the joystick, or removing one of the joycons and using it in a Wii remote-style.
As you progress, each chapter will end with a beautifully illustrated still, which are the only point of reference for telling the story, as well as the old man’s past. Some of the stills are worthy of being hung on my wall. And of many times I sat just watching them loop over and over again, accompanied by its worldly folk soundtrack.
Occasionally the Old Man’s Journey will change its gameplay by introducing puzzle elements like herding sheep in order to clear a path for the old man, to toying with its physics, but it never strays far from the core principles of shifting and moving the land around.
These subtle attempts at adding puzzles I found quite easy, but it seems intentional that they’re not meant to feel like roadblocks, but rather a means to add variety and interaction with the story. Again, similarly to a pop-up book.
Herding sheep, however, does get a bit tiresome and repetitive, and was more annoying than endearing later in the game.
As the game progresses and the story unravels, it sways in and out of sadder tones, which is a welcome departure from its otherwise peacefully pleasant aesthetic. And upon its conclusion, I was left emotionally moved and satisfied, which for me justified the game’s fairly short playthrough.
At its core, Old Man’s Journey is about someone who wants more, to explore, and in doing so harms those closest to him. I, for one, can relate. I have many times chose my own work and ambitions over others, and it was even more eerily appropriate that I played this game while on a trip for work away from a loved one.
Something else I appreciated about this story is that it poses the old man in such a light that makes his morals questionable — something that few games rarely attempt in its protagonist. And to see it done effectively in a game of such small stature, was refreshing.
It’s important to note that Old Man’s Journey was previously released for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android, but its many ways to control, as well as experiencing the game on a big screen and on the go is what separates it from its previous release on other platforms.
If you haven’t already played Old Man’s Journey, then this would be the time and way to experience it. Otherwise, it doesn’t serve much of a second playthrough, and aside from control and its hybrid portability, the Switch version doesn’t offer anything new. But despite this experience being a one-and-done, I have a feeling that I’ll be remembering this game well for years to come like an old memory, both pleasant but at times sad.