The adventure starts with a letter being delivered to an old man’s house. He opens the envelope, tears come out from his eyes, and immediately goes back inside. Instead of returning to his routine, he decides to pack a few things into a bag tied to a stick, rolls up a blanket and starts walking. This is how Old Man’s Journey introduces itself. A simple yet charming story about a man reliving his past, looking for what he loves the most and resonating with the people he crosses paths with.
Our task is to serve as a companion for the man, leading his way to cross mountains and waterfalls. While the game is set in a sides crolling perspective, there’s an interesting twist in how we can interact with the environment and, from the very first minutes, the landscapes themselves. Represented in 2D, the land masses are flat surfaces that can be stretched out to either increase or decrease their volume, opening new opportunities for the character. What’s even more interesting is that they are overlapped with each other, so we can move him to positions that are in the background, while the perspective changing as he travels. It’s an engaging and well implemented mechanic.
Switch’s version just made the mechanic better. I played the game solely with the touchscreen, manipulating surfaces with my fingers and moving by just tapping the direction where I wanted to go. In that regard -along with the incredible visuals in the console’s screen- the game benefits greatly from the port.
Old Man’s Journey is divided in 15 short levels, which take the main character throughout different areas. Villages filled with people, sailing through a storm in plain sea, enjoying the landscapes on a train. Each level has its own charm. Something I truly enjoyed was that, while the complexity of the puzzles did increase as you progressed through the game, it never felt unfair or over complicated. Old Man’s Journey wants to be a relaxing experience that you can enjoy just by tapping the screen while lying on bed. Needless to say, it succeeds in the premise.
The story, on the other hand, isn’t as tangible as the environments it takes place in. There’s no dialogue whatsoever. Everything is told by small gestures and movements from the characters. The facial expressions of the old man usually resonates with that of a very sad person who is recovering moments from the past in every step he makes. We don’t know his exact age, but it lives up to the game’s title in terms of the way he moves. Always using the stick as a tool to help him climb the mountains, and seeking for every opportunity to sit on a bench to rest for a while.
At the end of each level, a cutscene appears to illustrate a moment from the life of the main character. We see him meeting the love of his life, thinking about kids and all that sort of stuff that adults like to do. The story does not unfold without some gaps, though, and leaves a few things up for a personal interpretation. But, it all comes down to a wonderful ending that left me crying past the final scene and long after the credits have rolled over.
You get invested in the character. It’s a lonely ride for him, and perhaps his memories are way too much to bear. But, without him fully understanding it, we take his hand and join him in this journey as a silent companion, shaping earth to help him fulfill his task.
It’s a sad tale of redemption and what it means to make up for decisions of the past. I usually had to take breaks due to how anguished I felt, but it’s incredible to think how much Old Man’s Journey accomplishes with such simplicity all around. Both the soundtrack and the art style are key aspects in this, as well, but it’s the silent narrative that ties everything together in a meaningful way.
I would love to see more games that follow these steps. Short experiences that find a simple yet engaging angle on a story that has been told many times. It’s in the feelings that the character evoke and the details of each level, that Old Man’s Journey succeeds in leaving a mark in every player.
A review copy of the game for Switch was provided by the studio for review purposes. Old Man’s Journey was developed and published by Broken Rules; make sure to visit the official site for more information, and keep up to date to their latest news by following them on Twitter.