PC, Switch

Right now, who doesn’t want something just lovely? Embracelet is a truly wonderful game, with truthful loveliness at its core. It’s a game about being 17, about those first steps toward adulthood, finding out who you are, and dealing with loss, love and mystical bracelets with magic powers.

Jesper is a teenage Norwegian, living with his mother in Oslo, who has just finished his penultimate year of school. Things didn’t go so well in his exams, and he’s caught between his mum’s plans for him to spend his summer holidays studying, and his dying grandfather’s wishes that he travel to the remote island of Slepp in Northern Norway on which the septuagenarian grew up.

On visiting his grandfather in the nursing home, the old man asks Jesper to find a strange bulky bracelet in his room, then implores him to keep it secret – as he always has – and return it to Slepp. The bracelet, he says, has dangerous powers. Jesper is obviously dubious, until he’s shown how to use it to lift a fallen statue. Huh.

At which point I feel the need to leap in and say, yes, this absolutely is a game in which you can use a magic armband to move heavy objects, but it is so not like the game you might imagine based on that. Embracelet is a bright, smart, deeply emotional game in which this incongruous jewelry plays a fascinating role. It shouldn’t work. It really works. Think Night In The Woods without the self-loathing, or Oxenfree but everyone’s mostly fine.

Much of the game is spent calmly exploring Slepp, speaking with the few residents that remain on this once thriving fishing community, that is now falling to ruin after the loss of its main industry to the mainland. It’s about developing friendships with the island’s two other teenagers, helping folk out wherever you can, and you know, breaking into churches to find their records of 19th century shipwrecks.

This is from Mattis Folkestad, the one-person Nordic developer behind 2017’s splendid Milkmaid Of The Galaxy. And better still, Embracelet hasn’t a single rhyming couplet to be found! In fact, the writing here is absolutely top tier, right up there alongside the two teenage angst classics I just mentioned. It’s delightful, honest, funny and often very moving. It’s also a much bigger game, a solid four or five hours here, with a charming new art style switching pixels for polygons. Folkestad did the excellent music too, because he just wants to make us all sick with envy.

I want to bring special attention to an element that’s all too rarely mentioned in games criticism, because it’s all too rarely ever worth mentioning: the direction. This is a superbly well directed game, the camera work often outstanding. There are lovely “crane shots”, pulling out from windows to reveal bird’s eye views of the island, there’s a brilliantly placed dolly zoom, and more generally the camera is just put in smart places, the angles far more interesting than you usually see. It’s testament to what a good job is done of this that I only very rarely was annoyed I couldn’t turn the camera for myself – something that would normally have my back up throughout.

If I were a doctor, I’d be prescribing this game to people right now. It’s a tonic, an injection of joy. Quite how much so is actually up to you, with some pretty significant choices available to Jesper as you play. You can, as I did, choose to be wholly honest throughout, or there are moments to lie, cheat, and even steal. Jesper can be gay, straight or asexual by your choices, and how the game ends is determined by the focus you put on relationships throughout. Which let me remind you, and let’s get really annoyed by this again, is insane when you remember this is all the work of one person.

I love this. I think you will love it too.

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  1. Representation just fills me with joy every time I see it. What a lovely thing to play and such an amazing departure from their first title.

  2. I know this is a few months later, but just wanted to say this was my 2nd favourite game of 2020 – so many thanks for pointing it out, John! (A close 2nd after Lair of the Clockwork God).

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