Strangeland is a weird and wonderful new point-and-click adventure from Wormwood Studios and Wadjet Eye Games, where you navigate a disturbing carnival, trying to solve the mystery of the golden-haired woman and figure out why you are trapped in the depths of what seems to be a living nightmare.
When you start out in the game you’re dropped into the obscure carnival known as Strangeland. You start off in a straight jacket, and the only direction to go is to go down, where you’ll meet a grotesque Clown head who’s intent on telling bad jokes that don’t seem to have a punchline. Upon entering the big top you’ll see a blonde woman throwing herself down a well, and it appears as if you are trapped in a cycle and your punishment is to see this play out over and over again.
The twisted underworld is ruled by a mysterious Dark Thing, a seemingly Evil force. As well as tormenting you, the Dark Thing systematically works through all of the other characters you interact with killing them off one by one. It’s your job to figure out why you are here, where you are and also unravel the mystery of the blonde woman.
Wormwood says about the game “Forge a blade from iron stolen from the jaws of a ravenous hound and hone it with wrath and grief; charm the eye out of a ten-legged teratoma; and ride a giant cicada to the edge of oblivion…. Amidst such madness, death itself has no grip on you, and you will wield that slippery immortality to gain an edge over your foes.”
The gameplay follows a classic point-and-click adventure style. However, the puzzles are non-linear and also have multiple solutions, which promotes multiple playthroughs. There’s a cast of weird and wonderful characters in the world including the blind man sitting below the tree, the joker clown sitting above the entrance to the big top, Eighty-Three (the giant furnace who helps craft items for you) plus the three Valkeries. Gameplay follows the model of previous point-and-click adventures where you have to interrogate the cast, gather and combine items to ultimately try and escape this living hell you have found yourself in.
Death is used as an interesting mechanic in the game. Death doesn’t work as normal like in the world above, sometimes it can offer clues to the path ahead. You’ll also die plenty of times in Strangeland given the Dark Thing is roaming, and a wrong turn down a well can also lead to a sticky end. It’s ok though, death will lead you right back to the beginning, still with your full inventory intact.
The puzzles are good and there are some neat innovations here. Early on in the game, there’s a shooting gallery, which takes some rapid input from the mouse, as well as throwing rocks at the raven to get the blind man to create work orders. The puzzles aren’t too tricky, although I did find myself stuck on a few occasions. There’s a neat hint system using the payphone, which you can dial 0 and get a small hint on where to go next. The game doesn’t tell you exactly what to do but gently nudges you in the right direction. Sometimes when playing adventure games like this, I feel incredibly stupid when stuck at a seemingly simple puzzle, so this is a nice feature to keep things moving.
Both the graphics and audio are standout features of the game. From the moment you start playing this is an unsettling game, the visuals are twisted and evil (but beautiful at the same time). Much like other popular point and click games the main characters are wonderfully crafted pixel art designs layered on top of a 2D environment. There are cutscenes too which provide context. As you progress through the game the environment gets even more twisted and shocking, I won’t spoil what happens but Strangeland evolves into something even more terrifying than its initial design. It’s definitely something to savor and look forward to, plus pretty shocking at the same time.
The audio design compliments the grotesque visuals really well. The artwork and the writing make you a little unsettled and then the audio comes in to smash you in the ears with an audio design that will really creep you out.
Wormwood Studios and Wadjet Eye Games have collaborated before on Primordia, and if you are a fan of the genre then you’ll likely be aware of their work. Wormwood has put out a great post detailing their inspirations for Strangeland which include Mervyn Peake, Ray Bradbury, Francisco Goya, The Prisoner, Eraserhead, even cult video games Sanitarium, and Weird Dreams. The team behind the game is some of the best in the business and that shows in the execution of Strangeland.
Strangeland has a developer commentary feature plus an annotation mode, which is great if you want to do a couple of playthroughs and have the team explain things as you play. Writer Mark Yohalem said it’s “a map from my childhood wonders and fears to adulthood’s responsibility, regret, and recognition” and that the artist put a lot of himself into it too, therefore the developer commentary really helps explain a lot of the hidden and literal meaning in the game. You can really tell someone put their heart and soul into this from the final product.
Strangeland is a great adventure and also not very long too at roughly 5 hours running time. There’s horror, tension but also comedy in here, and combined with the visually stunning graphics and the anxiety-inducing music too makes for a great package. If you like point-and-click adventure games, then I think you are going to love this one. If you’re not a fan of the genre then I’d recommend checking it out anyway, because this is a story with fantastic writing. It’s not too expensive, and it’s a short, self-contained story which could be finished in a weekend plus you’ll get a very memorable gaming experience.
Developer: Wormwood Studios
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Platforms: PC via Steam, GOG
Release Date: May 25th 2021