Sarawak, for those of you who don’t know, is a state in Malaysia on the island of Borneo. The island is home to lush tropical jungles and rainforests and the earliest known settlement in the area dates back 40,000 years. It also happens to be the destination for Mia, the protagonist of Cowleyfornia Studios’ newest game.
The story of Sarawak follows Mia as her mother is accused of murder and she then takes it upon herself to investigate the dead man, who turns out to be her father. He left her a trail of clues that leads her to Sarawak, an important place in her parents’ history, and the location of the truth behind why she never met him. Mia’s story is deeply interesting, with many characters and intriguing plot threads, but is unfortunately all too short. Clocking in at an hour and a half of gameplay, it feels like we’re getting the ClifNotes version of the story instead of the full-length novel.
Still, Mia is curious and intrepid, and it’s fun to follow her journey from England to Sarawak. The story behind her parents’ separation is enough of a hook to hold you to the end of an hour and a half, but the initial mystery of who killed her father fades from prominence rather quickly in favor of investigating the past. Eventually, though, we do get to see both plotlines resolved satisfactorily.
The characters of Sarawak, much like the story, come up too short. With the lack of story depth and the short game time, we’re never really given any chance to get to know any of them terribly well, except for Mia, and choosing her dialogue and response options makes her more of a player insert character than anything else. No characters appear for more than one or two scenes, and they’re all used as key parts of the mystery or to further Mia along on her way to solving it. However, I must admit I adored the gecko in the game, which has exactly three scenes, and spends one of them eating a pancake.
The puzzles in Sarawak are fun, though not particularly difficult. Using the game’s minimalist art style, you interact with the illustrations to solve puzzles and continue the journey, whether by opening a locked gate or figuring out just the right way to help a security guard woo his crush. None requires much thought, but the setup and style of the interactivity between the story and the illustrations are wonderful and one of Sarawak’s strongest suits. I’d be eager to see more of this format in the form of a sequel or simply another game.
Sarawak’s art style is wonderfully minimalist, using bold colors to set the scenes and sharp contours to frame them. None of the characters have much detail except for Mia, and it works to portray them as somewhat archetypal to the story.
Overall, Sarawak is an interesting and cozy mystery story, with beautiful artwork and wonderfully intertwined gameplay that works very well as a game format. Unfortunately, the shortness of the story and the shallowness of the characters is the biggest drawback, as it feels like we don’t get the full story here. Still, for those looking for a fun way to pass an hour and a half, and those with literary inclinations, you could do far worse than Sarawak.
TechRaptor reviewed Sarawak on PC with a copy provided by the developer.
- Beautiful, Minimalist Art Style
- Interesting Premise
- Short Run Time Rushes Mystery
- Shallow Characters