The point-and-click adventure genre has seen a decent resurgence over the past decade, due in part to the efforts of Telltale Games and their high-profile hits like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. One major difference in how Telltale has handled their games for the past few years is heavily downplaying the trademarks of inventory management and puzzle solving, focusing more on character interaction and choices that impact certain plot elements.
This shift has resulted in titles from other companies that take a similar approach, most notably Dontnod’s Life is Strange. Now, indie European developer Mipumi Games has produced The Lion’s Song: Episode 1 – Silence, the first installment in a four-part series. This initial episode, while brief and a bit simplistic, is still an interesting little character study with a unique aesthetic, and the fact that it’s being offered on Steam for free means there’s little reason for fans of narrative-driven adventure games to skip it.
Taking place in Austria circa the early 1900s, Silence focuses on Wilma, an up-and-coming composer suffering from creator’s block while trying to score her latest song. Her mentor attempts to spark her creativity by booking her a week in solitude at a mountain retreat, but this change in scenery, combined with a reveal that places additional pressure on Wilma, results in a bout of inner turmoil that she must overcome to deliver a masterpiece.
The game is presented via a monochromatic pixel art style, and while it’s generally not the most detailed game of that type, what’s presented still works. Gameplay is very simple, with players using the cursor to observe and interact with various parts of the two environments Wilma has access to. There’s no inventory to speak of and a few simple puzzles to solve, with the emphasis being placed much more on Wilma’s thoughts and reflections regarding her work, her future and what she truly wants in life.
As the primary goal is to complete the melody, clicking certain elements will provide a spurt of inspiration, represented by the cursor changing to musical notes. Getting enough of these will result in the full song being written, and the episode getting a proper conclusion. Periodically, Wilma will nod off and provide brief dream sequences that offer players insight on various aspects she’s grappling with. A phone on her desk will also occasionally provide interactions with another character, during which players can choose what to say.
Mipumi has stressed the importance of player choices, promising that certain decisions will be reflected in the remaining episodes of The Lion’s Song. I played through the episode twice making some different decisions along the way, but still ended up getting the same overall conclusion, with only some lines of closing dialog subtly reflecting a different path for Wilma. It’s certainly possible that there’s more variation to be found in this first installment, but choices feel more subtle here than the usual Telltale fare.
It’s also worth noting that most players will beat Silence in a half hour or less. While I’ve frequently complained about Telltale’s average episodes clocking in at under two hours for the past two years, there’s a key difference here that makes me more lenient with the episode’s brevity: it’s free to download and play in its entirety. If the game’s season pass offer is any indication, subsequent episodes will require payment, but maybe Mipumi knew that requiring money for such a short intro to a brand new IP would be a tough sell, and this decision was a smart move in my eyes.
The downside is that this short length, combined with there only being two primary screens to explore, results in a story that’s over too quickly to get fully invested in. The remaining episodes of The Lion’s Song will apparently focus on other protagonists, so more potential growth for Wilma will likely be downplayed. While the episode has some good moments that creatively display Wilma’s inner demons, it also lacks surprising and truly impactful scenes that will stick with players.
It will be interesting to see how the remaining episodes of The Lion’s Song compare to Silence in both length and emotional resonance, but the first episode is still a decent introduction. The fact that its plot is more grounded than most modern adventure games and its setting is a mostly underused one also helps it stand out in some ways. How successful the series as a whole will be remains unknown, but considering the asking price, I think avid adventure game fans should give it a shot.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
While a brief running time results in less emotional investment than its developers probably intended, The Lion’s Song: Episode 1 – Silence is still a novel diversion for adventure game fans that costs nothing to try out.