Norco is a point-and-click adventure game with beautiful pixel art and incredible writing. It’s getting the headlines for all the right reasons at the moment due to its commentary on the environment and capitalism. If you don’t mind reading, then this is a game that you should definitely check out.
You may remember point-and-click adventure games from the 90s, greats like Day of the Tentacle, The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and many more. Great point-and-click adventure games never really went away, there have been excellent releases recently including Strangeland (2021), Unavowed (2018) and Lamplight City (2018). It feels like 2022 is having somewhat of a renaissance when it comes to these games getting some headlines, and Norco is one of the main drivers of that trend.
Norco is a Southern Gothic narrative adventure that immerses the player in the sinking suburbs and verdant industrial swamps of a distorted South Louisiana. Your brother Blake has gone missing in the aftermath of your mother’s death. In the hopes of finding him, you must follow a fugitive security cyborg through the refineries, strip malls, and drainage ditches of suburban New Orleans.
Norco is from Geography of Robots and one of the main writers, Yuts, originally comes from the real-life Norco, which is most likely why the game feels so authentic. In the game, the story follows Kay, and she comes home to find her devastated brother mourning the death of their mother. The game is set in the near future, a twisted post-apocalyptic America. Gangs with guns patrol the streets, cities are run down and capitalism has run its course. The game switches perspectives from Kay and her mother Katherine, although this is set in the past before she died. Norco manages to examine and poke fun at modern-day problems like the gig economy, climate issues and rampant capitalism.
Point-and-click games tend to live and die through their puzzles, and often how obtuse they are. Over the years the mechanics have been streamlined, and here in Norco, the puzzles aren’t too tricky. Thankfully you won’t get stopped in your tracks, so you are free to enjoy the story. The team at Geography of Robots have managed to bring to life a cast of characters in this modern commentary on the world we live in; the drug dealer, and the Airbnb guest, all beautifully brought to life and larger than life.
One of the main features of the game is a mindmap system. This is a nice system to keep the story moving, and looks at the visualisation of Kay’s choices. It’s a decent visualisation of the game’s major story beats, so if you are lost then the mind map is a good place to start to get back into the flow. It’s a nice innovation in the point-and-click genre that has the player delve deep into the mind, not only of Kay but yourself. Other point and clicks have you walking around, interacting with the environment and puzzles to get your bearings, so this is a nice change of pace.
The wonderful thing that Norco does is make you look at your own surroundings. Given the main writer and designer of Norco is from the town itself, you really get the sense it’s real, and the issues that are brought up in the game like gentrification, gig economy, classes etc. The game makes you examine not only Kay’s relationship with Norco and Louisiana, but your relationship with where you live.
Norco probably won’t be for everybody. This is a very talky game, rather than a doey game… there’s a lot of reading, character building and development. For me, it’s a demonstration of some of the best writing in video games in 2022, and as a fan of point-and-click adventure games, I’m really pleased to see a game like this get the headlines and column inches.
Developer: Geography of Robots
Publisher: Raw Fury
Platforms: PC and Xbox
Release Date: 24 March 2022