How can it be 14 years since I first played a Mateusz Skutnik game? I discovered the former Flash game creator via Daymare, and then went back to his Submachine series, and just adored what he was doing. These were Amanita-esque clicky puzzle games, exploring his wonderful art to find codes, click inventory objects into their holes, and gradually open up doors and paths. This is precisely the format for his latest, Slice Of Sea, except this time it’s feature-length.
You play as… look, I’m not responsible for this. You play as a piece of seaweed in some metal pants. We can’t change that. Why are you a piece of seaweed in some robotic underwear? I have finished the game, and I absolutely couldn’t tell you. What is your purpose in meticulously poring over this intricately labyrinthine world of wonderfully strange creatures and obtusely locked doors? Not a clue. But gosh I had a good time playing it.
It’s so interesting to see one of these mobile-friendly (although mysteriously, this is only on PC so far) writ huge, made hours long through sheer volume. It gives the puzzle format an almost Metroidvania-ish vibe, previously explored areas of the world opening up in new directions the further you go. By the end your inventory is ludicrously large, albeit mostly packed with the various pieces of detritus you gather along with actually useful items.
What’s most important here is how wonderful it looks. It’s a constant joy just to stare at, with the most amazing creature designs throughout. It’s all hand-drawn, then animated, then given even more depth with superb sound effects. (The scritchy-scratchy-squelchy noises made by what I’ll call the sky-nautiluses is my favourite.) Foregrounds are meticulously detailed, while backgrounds have a merrily sketchy look, depicting an alien world covered in remnants of ruined buildings, abandoned trains, shipwrecked boats, and out-of-time surviving houses. So much seems as if it crashed through a portal from Earth, although nothing living is vaguely familiar.
Each scene is packed with tiny details, meaning you have to scour for items, clues, puzzles and optional collectables. The further you get, the more of this crazy layout you have to try to hold together in your brain, since it would probably break space-time to try to map it. Fortunately, there are a very generous number of warping points that allow you to leap great distances, accessed through discovery.
Puzzles are rarely more involved than finding missing levers, entering codes, or gathering scattered items to get a machine working once more. Occasionally there are some neat twists – a nice example is a two-room puzzle where you always have to be in the opposite space to interact with the other. This brings me neatly to the other peculiarity of Slice Of Sea: its controls.
Rather than the more usual mouse-only method for such games, here you control your robo-weed character with WASD, the W (or Space) jumping, the S having you enter doorways, or walk ‘into’ the screen through passages. The mouse cursor is then used for all interaction with the world, to pick up objects, pull levers, place inventory items, etc. The confusing part being that your character never needs to be near anything to use it. It’s as if you’re playing alongside him, an omnipotent hand in his world.
I have some gripes. I mentioned pressing S to walk into passages, but such paths are too often woefully marked, and in the end, I resorted to just hitting S as I walked around, just in case. Which sucked a bit. The other problem that plagues the whole game is a lack of propelling reward when completing some of the larger puzzles. Too often, you can spend absolutely bloody ages getting all five of something-or-other to open a door that’s been nagging you for hours, and when you get in it’s just another object you don’t yet know what to do with. Finally get all the cogs you need to open that door, and all you’ll get is another fuse to add to your pile, for a purpose that won’t be revealed for a long while. You can end up getting more significant finds just walking sideways to a new location, and it’s a shame this isn’t better balanced.
Oh, and it ends. I mean, everything ends, second law of thermodynamics and all that. But wow, this just stops. I felt like I was right in the middle of it when it suddenly switched to a closing cutscene. The plot made not a lick of sense. It would have been a better game if it had, but it’s no disaster that it doesn’t. What matters is the entertainment on the way, and this was packed with it.
And my goodness, the score! I’ve saved this to the end, because it’s spectacular. It’s by Mateusz’s frequent collaborator, The Thumpmonks, and wonderfully they’ve uploaded the entire thing to their YouTube, including this hour-long mix:
It’s definitely not a cheap game, at £20. I wish it weren’t that much, because I see far fewer people buying this as a result. While it’s certainly longer than the sorts of games it’s historically based on, it matches an Amanita title, who rarely charge over £10. I feel sure that at half the price, it’d sell far more than twice as many copies. At £20, I’m hesitant to recommend it. At £10, I’d be demanding you buy it. But then, value is relative to the person purchasing, and you’re a big girl/boy, you can make that decision for yourself. Either way, this is a fab puzzle game, with just adorable art and music.