Summertime Madness

PC, Mac

The thing with games that people compare to Myst is they mostly aren’t anything near as bad as Myst. Myst is an objectively terrible game, only liked by idiots and murderers. Games that people wrongly compare to it are generally arty first-person puzzle games that have levers in them. But almost none of them are as stupidly obscure and poorly put together. For instance, Summertime Madness is an arty first-person puzzle game with levers in it, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Myst! In fact, it’s rather good.

The tale to excuse this gorgeous wandering through a painterly world has a Prague-based artist, exhausted and living in the ruins of 1945, make Faustian pact that allows him to be transported to the world within his colourful, optimistic paintings. However, if he’s not found a way out by midnight, he will be trapped in his canvas forever. Although given how pretty and interesting it is in there, that doesn’t seem so bad.

You start off on some very lovely islands in the water, pootling about to find your first goal. Which is a great way to begin. As you explore, things begin to materialise around you, including an enormous boat, a lighthouse, and so on. Each contains a bundle of switch-based puzzles, opening and closing gates and doorways, and occasionally discovering little one-off puzzle challenges.

For once, the “painting” conceit isn’t just an excuse for pretty graphics – Summertime Madness (which is a horrible name for a game like this) properly embraces the theme. There are nods and tributes to various artists throughout, including a just superb reimagining of a Magritte work – to reference The Son Of Man without including the apple is demonstrative of the intelligence throughout the design. And sure, floppy clocks are inevitable, but they here they aren’t draped over branches and rocks.

The ‘escape by midnight’ opener affords the game it’s perhaps ill-advised gimmick: you can choose to play with a time limit, such that a clock ever ticks down, with the approaching 12am a foreboding game over. You can set that opening timer to six or three hours, depending how rushed you want to feel, and with an update since launch, have no timer at all. You can look at your pocket watch at any point to see how long remains, and crucially, use this to get hints at the cost of fifteen minutes. It always seems such a solid idea to establish limits like these, right up until you’ve been playing a game for five hours and fifty-five minutes, and realise you’re about to lose everything. Six hours is definitely enough, but at the same time, it seems a shame to have this hanging over you when there are so many hidden secrets to uncover, so many collectable extras to seek out.

Playing with no timer at all isn’t really a fix either, as it makes hints ‘free’, and if you want free hints the internet is right there. I’d love to see a mode where the time limit is entirely hint-based, such that any time you seek extra help you bring yourself closer to midnight. (As well, of course, as keeping the free play version for those who would prefer that.)

Toward the end of the game, where things have become so elaborate that you’re entering a series of mysterious doors to find more paintings to enter that then overlap with the main area, it then expands into a new vast zone of interlocking doors, gates and levers, and honestly, I got overwhelmed. If anything, here it got a bit too Myst-like, with levers shutting one gate and opening another, but without my having any idea where they were relative to me. And indeed whether I needed one or the other to be open or closed! It’s so big, and so complicated, that it made me just feel exhausted.

I’m quite certain it can be sensibly deduced, by someone less tired, less handsome than me. I shall return to it and try again. But what’s crucial is how much I’d enjoyed playing up to that point that I still feel compelled to recommend it. And if you’re unsure, there’s a demo too.

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  1. Thanks John. This sounds/looks lovely.

    I can indulge you shaking your fist and demanding Myst get off your lawn as long as it doesn’t keep you from appreciating games like this one.

  2. This game looks like it actually might work if set to Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness”.

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