The Sailor’s Dream: Review - Games Weekly

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Sailor’s Dream: Review

Let go. In Simogo’s sixth game, this short instruction isn’t merely asking you to remove your finger from the screen, but inviting you to submit yourself to the sea, to be swept along by its tides. It feels like an exhortation, too. As the fragments of the game’s narrative drift towards one another, the memories held in the curios scattered across its islands feel ever more like an unreliable crutch; though thoughts of the past can help us escape, they can equally hold us captive.

The ocean you navigate is remarkably calm, the delicate lapping of waves accompanied by the whirring clicks of nautical equipment as you glide effortlessly across the surface, with just a hint of resistance as you draw clear from an island. Point your compass towards a shore and you’ll hear the wooden creak of your boat’s hull as you physically drag yourself inland. And yet as you negotiate the old, abandoned structures that hold the game’s many small secrets, you’ll drift through them as if in a mellow reverie.

These are wonderful places to briefly inhabit, perfectly imperfect in their arrangements, with each carrying the quietly haunting intrigue of an afternoon spent sifting through bric a brac in an abandoned loft. Rooms, stairwells and corridors are filled with ethereal whispers and chimes, as well as the gorgeous acoustic themes of Jonathan Eng. You’ll hear the musical patter of raindrops on window panes, a gull’s echoing cry, the hiss and crackle of radio static, and a rum-soaked old voice, weathered by time and tragedy. You may not be a tangible presence in the world, but these places feel
lived-in, their ambience lent emotional weight by the history attached to the objects found therein.

Yet the plot is hardly opaque. This isn’t a mystery, nor a puzzle to be solved. Rather, the key events of the narrative take shape early on, and are subsequently contextualised and imbued with deeper meaning. It’s a tale with a song in its heart and romance in its soul, its wistful, melancholic reminiscences interspersed with a note of bittersweet optimism. Other developers might have opted for a bigger emotional punch as you finally prepare to leave the past behind, but the subtly moving coda here is an exemplar of storytelling maturity.

For some, a bold attempt to bridge the gap between the game world and ours may only serve to emphasise the distance, while the unorthodox structure may irk those who prefer their narratives neatly packaged up. But abandon your expectations of what a game is and how a story should be told, and this lyrical, wilfully elusive experience will stay with you, lingering with the warmth and sorrow of a parting embrace. To give in to its spell, you just need to let go.

In a delightful coincidence, The Sailor’s Dream is the second game this issue (along with Fantasia) that owes a debt to cult DS game Electroplankton. Simogo is more than happy to acknowledge the inspiration, though it would be discourteous to detail its influence here. As with Device 6 and Year Walk, we’d advise playing with the volume up and earbuds in, so you can truly appreciate the performance from voice actor R Bruce Elliott and other aural surprises best left unspoiled.

IOS - 9/10

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