by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Walking the Line
It’s a tough job to tackle real, historically sensitive issues in video games, and the plight of civilians in Nazi-controlled regions of WW2 is perhaps the most sensitive issue there is. The line in which you’re ok to walk can be incredibly thin; on one hand, the developers need to pay respect to the people and events they’re referencing, but on the other hand they need to make their product fun. Lean too far one way and you’ll rightfully anger the community. Lean too far the other and nobody will want to buy your game. My Memory of Us, through its utilization of allegory, manages to walk this line well, resulting in an experience that simultaneously respects those it references and deliver a fun platformer with excitement and spectacle.
As the game opens, the player is put in control of a young girl popping into a bookstore to find something new to read. Hidden away in the attic of an old man’s bookstore, she finds something special. After bringing it to him, he reveals that it’s a photo album of pictures from his youth, which he spent with a young girl who bears a striking resemblance to the initial player-character. He decides to brew some tea and tell the story of just what happened.
Beautiful Art and a Beautiful Voice
The first think you’ll notice is that the game is beautiful. The simplistic, childrens-book inspired visuals do a lovely job of infusing the game with a fairy-tale like aesthetic, but things aren’t too cartoony to the point that they lose their ability to elicit emotion. The game is also mostly grayscale, with only select object appearing in vivid red. I do think the gray and red, especially in a game allegorically representing Nazi occupation, is a bit too similar to the technique used in Schindler’s List, but it does look nice and does serve its purpose once the color comes to represent those being “othered” by the robot army.
The second thing you’ll notice is that the narrator is none other than the delightful Patrick Stewart. He really does seem to be giving his all to the performance (which isn’t always the case with celebrity voice actors), and his natural charisma lends a gravitas and emotional pull to the story that I’m not quite sure would have landed with someone of a lesser caliber. Money used to hire Patrick Stewart for anything is money well spent, and that’s certainly as true here as it is anywhere else. As the story develops, it becomes clear that the allegory presented is fairly paper thin. The game isn’t about Nazis invading Poland and separating families, it’s about an army of evil robots invading and separating families. It’s... not subtle, but that’s not really a bad thing. Like I mentioned earlier, it lets the game walk the fun/respect line fairly well. The robot design are retro-cool, and a lot of their machines/tools are designed well. I didn’t have a problem disliking them like I was supposed to, but I also didn’t feel as bad digging their style as I otherwise would have. In fact, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the game would be a fantastic tool for young-ish kids learning about the time period. Not from a historically factual angle, but just for an interesting supplement to help them grast the vibe when they’re too young for some of the harder-to-process parts of the actual historical events.
Simple Gameplay, But That’s OK.
Gameplay consists of your typical sidescrolling platformer affair and gets the job done well enough. You’ll have to move stuff, rotate stuff, push stuff, and occasionally look for clues in the environment to open or change stuff. To be fair, there isn’t really much to talk about, but I never found myself actively enthralled or bored by the puzzles. Nothing was too hard, but most of it was challenging enough, and in a game like this I think that’s the right call. The twist comes from the ability to control both the boy and girl characters, each equipped with a few basic abilities that vary from each other. You’ll need to put a little thought into switching between the two, and when to keep them together vs split them up. The reason to play is taking in the visuals and story, and having to constantly stop for long periods to figure out overly-challenging puzzles would have really killed the mood. This is why I did find some of the stealth sections a bit tedious, but even those weren’t actively un-fun, just not as much my cup of tea.
It can be hard to recommend sidescrolling platform-puzzlers these days with the sheer number of fantastic ones hitting the market every single year for quite some time now, but My Memory of Us is worth your time. With a unique atmosphere, well-told story, quality visuals and voice acting, and a run time short enough to make it perfect for a weekend finish, I think just about everyone will find there money and money well spent.
Beautiful artwork, quality voice acting by Patrick Stewart, interesting fairy-tale atmosphere, emotional story, effective use of allegory.
The stealth sections can be a bit of a momentum-killer.