The gaming world, sadly, does not have enough point-and-click adventures. After the fall of LucasArts and the attempts of Telltale at cornering and refocusing the adventure game market, developers have to try things a bit differently to appeal to the masses. Enter Pewter Games, an independent studio based in Dublin, Ireland, and their ambitious title, The Little Acre.
The Little Acre defies expectations from the very start. The game’s opening implies a larger, fantastic story before dropping you into a less-than-exciting bedroom. There, you’re introduced to the protagonists, Aiden, his young daughter Lily, and their dog Dougal. Life is simple for the three as they go about their daily regimen, eating breakfast and completing regular household repairs. Certainly a tonal shift from the prologue, but not exactly disappointing, either. More of a teaser for what's in store.
Gameplay doesn't deviate far from the traditional point and click adventure. Grab a sandwich, use it here, wait for the right moment to place a stick in the dog's mouth. The usual stuff is on display, and it all works without issue. There isn't exactly room to make mistakes, as any incorrect uses of items will result in a quip like, "I thought about doing that, but decided not to." It's a bit disappointing that the humor of making a wrong choice wasn't explored more, but it doesn't detract from The Little Acre too much.
As you play as both Aiden and Lily, you gradually learn more about them. Aiden is an unemployed widower who is trying to find a way to support his daughter. You can hear the dejection in his voice when he muses about this fact, especially after finding a job rejection letter in the mail. Lily, on the other hand, is much smarter than we’re led to believe, though still very much a child filled with creative thinking. She understands the situation with her father and wants to help in whatever way she can.
However, there is a mystery that slowly reveals itself. Aiden makes offhand comments about his dad’s disappearance, and we realize that the opening scene was a retelling of those events. As the game progresses, Aiden stumbles upon some secrets in his father’s work area, leading him to a portal in the shed out back. After some tinkering, he’s transported to the world of Clofera, a mysterious land with swamps and a cutesy, chibi inspired art direction. Lily discovers that her father has now gone missing, and decides to rescue him.
The charm of The Little Acre is undeniable, from the characters that you love by the very start, to the Don Bluth-inspired visuals. The game’s world is simple, but nonetheless magical. Even menial tasks such as getting Aiden dressed without waking Lily feel like adventures. All of this is capped off by the absolute treat that is the game's hand-drawn art. The visuals feel like something that came from an animated feature, not an indie game. From the Irish cottage to the world of Clofera, the imagery is also reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, capturing the warmth of home life and the wonder of unique worlds.
Puzzles are not terribly difficult but do not have immediately obvious solutions, either. A hint option exists for anyone who may get stuck in certain sections, which is useful, but unnecessary for point-and-click veterans. With this in mind, it's reasonable to assume that The Little Acre will be accessible for players of any age. None of the puzzles feel out of place, or just there to fill out gameplay. Each one has its purpose, contributing both to the narrative and respective mindsets of Aiden and Lily. Aiden's puzzles are more straightforward and logical, while Lily's require a bit more creative thinking. Both characters explain their reasoning through inner monologues, acting as both subtle hints for the player and helping to establish them as characters.
There are some minor issues present, such as the menu controls being wonky at times. However, my biggest fear about The Little Acre is that it may be too short. Taking time to explore every bit of the preview took a little longer than two hours, for comparison, and it ends on what feels like a middle point. It's certainly an adventure worth embarking on, but there's no shaking that sinking feeling that The Little Acre might not be long enough to be fully enjoyable. Of course, in a world like this, you would want to stay for as long as possible. It would be a shame to cut the charm short so soon.
However, that isn't to say that The Little Acre is shaping up to be a disappointing experience. On the contrary, every little moment was enjoyable and makes you hunger for more. While it's nothing particularly radical or groundbreaking, the game is still shaping up to be a wonderfully pleasant experience. It's clear that Pewter Games took great care in crafting The Little Acre, and that effort does not go unnoticed.
The Little Acre was previewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer. It will also be available on Xbox One and PC via Steam when it releases on December 13th, 2016.