By: Justin Redmon
If you say point-and-click adventure to a lot of people, a bunch of familiar names are bound to pop up. King’s Quest, Day of the Tentacle and plenty of other staples of the genre are firmly engrained in people’s minds as being the definitive point-and-click adventure to go by, and must plays of the genre. Personally, I’ve run through Blazing Dragons on PlayStation an almost uncountable number of times, and wholeheartedly agree with the love of the genre.
Stranded, by Curve Studios, seems to be a little different than what I’m accustomed to, though. Taking a more minimalist approach to a classic genre, Stranded places you in the boots of an astronaut that crash landed on a distant uncharted planet, alone and trying to survive.
Now, as controls go, Stranded certainly boils everything down to the bare essentials. There’s no menus to wade through or extraneous options to fiddle with; everything is controlled via the mouse, which, outside of a sparse few interactive objects, means besides clicking on yourself to bring up your map you’ll mainly be moving about the screen.
That being said, the only real problems I have are the slow, plodding pace that your character takes across the screen, and the inability to change where you’re going until you reach your queued up destination. I can’t shake the feeling this slow pace is deliberate so you soak in more of the atmosphere, but even so, it’s an annoyance.
In presentation, Stranded is perfection. It’s beautiful pixel art style creates a landscape that’s begging to be explored, with just enough hints of mystery and discovery to edge you along with curiosity. Its portrayal of an alien planet uses vast emptiness and desolation to make every step one fraught with unease. When the game decides, backdrops are accompanied by soft piano-driven melodies that escalate a scene at a moment’s notice, from oddly uplifting to crushing despair. Stranded’s true mastery, however, comes from its wielding of silence, letting the hard crunch of the ground underneath or your character’s echoing breaths speak volumes instead.
When it comes to gameplay, Stranded is a bit harder to nail down, taking a much larger focus on story than anything else, beginning with you waking from cryo-stasis to find your ship all but destroyed on an uncharted planet. So, like any point-and-click, you’ll start clicking around to get your bearings, interact with objects and such, but really, there’s nothing of the sort here. You’ll really only interact with two objects: yourself and the cryo-pod to sleep and switch between night and day.
With almost no interaction within the environment, pretty much all your gameplay will come from exploring this alien planet, and thanks to the stunning atmosphere, it’s a mostly enjoyable experience. Sure, you mostly just trod along and sort just stumble upon events happening, events that seem to take a notably dark turn quite quickly, but trying to piece everything together and make sense of your surroundings is where the game really shines.
Events happen at certain times at certain places, so returning to your cryo-pod to sleep switches between day and night, giving you a chance to happen upon more scenes that unravel the mystery of the alien planet, along with introducing a decidedly darker tone to your exploration.
Stranded’s ending comes somewhat abruptly, and after solving the games only “puzzle”, if you can even call it that, you gain a clearer picture of the mysteries of the planet and why events you happened across went down like they did. All the buildup that the game places on this moment plays off quite nicely, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy what Stranded offered in its minimalist interpretation of a point-and-click adventure games. The real problem is, there’s just not a lot of game here.
Stranded is short; like, really short. My first playthrough was somewhere around 2-3 hours, mostly because of not really understanding how or what to do for a while, and the unbelievably slow walking pace of your protagonist. After completing your first playthrough and knowing what you’re doing, you could speed through in under an hour, something that’s actually recommended because of different events that transpire during subsequent playthroughs.
Things don’t change enough to warrant these extra playthroughs though, and when you realize meaningful events are padded by extremely long walking segments that you have no way to speed up, you’ll probably be less than willing to trudge through it again.
For a game so focused on story, Stranded seems more willing to slow drip actually interesting segments between tedium, and when the reward for doing so is to do it again for slightly different story segments, it all sort of seems pointless, even more so if the games somewhat of a twist ending just doesn’t matter to you.
Stranded offers up a presentation that most other games could only dream off, and sadly underutilizes its achievements with too little story and too much tedium.