Cows, spaceships, and poetry.
I’ve never been able to make up my mind about whether or not I enjoy point-and-click adventure games. The real, true-blue classics (the cream of the crop, as you might call ‘em) hit the PC gaming scene just a bit before my time. While my crazy, half-baked uncles were rattling off machine gun fire in Wolfenstein 3D during family gatherings, I was relegated to a different room in the house, playing with my Fisher Price toy telephone, and entirely unaware that the idea of game narrative was in the middle of a bullish surge toward mainstream adoption. When I got a little older, I made sure to check out Day of the Tentacle, Leisure Suit Larry, and the fantastic King’s Quest series. It was easy to see just how revolutionary these concepts might have felt to an audience that was theretofore exposed primarily to home console variations of stuff like Pac-Man and Space Invaders. But I was stuck making these analyses with my head, not with my heart. I’d simply arrived at the party too late.
I find it very cool that there are still indie studios (and in this case, a one-man-band) that believe wholeheartedly in the lasting influence of the almighty Point-and-Click. I’ve spent the better part of the past few weeks playing Milkmaid of the Milky Way, in both its preview-build configuration and more recently, as a full release.
Milkmaid of the Milky Way is developer Mattis Folkestad’s take on the enduring (and endearing) eccentricities of a genre that used to be dominated by Sierra Games, prior to its purchase by Activision and subsequent absorption into that publisher’s branding. Ruth, a young farm girl in 1920’s Norway, has had a tough run of things lately. Her family is long gone, and she’s overseen the old milk farm ever since. One day Ruth awakes to find a huge space ship hovering outside her sleepy cabin. Ruth is faced with a tough decision: does she stay at the family farm and keep the milk flowing, or is it time to acknowledge her longing for adventure? You probably don’t need me to tell you which choice keeps the game from ending right away.
Milkmaid’s earliest narrative revelation comes soon after the calmness of its peaceful first act is blown wide open to reveal Ruth’s larger purpose: at its heart, the game is a re-telling of the hero’s journey—the struggle of one small figure against a formidable, challenging foe. It wants so much to create the sensation of a different time-and-place that the textual elements of the plot are delivered via rhyming prose. Milkmaid of the Milky Way feels as though it was penned by a practiced playwright.
I’ve really gotta’ commend Mattis for his decision to deliver the game’s story entirely in that rhyme scheme. Every single line of narration—from the description of an item to Ruth’s personal journal—fits into a whimsical, prose-centric theme. Milkmaid of the Milky Way is full of lines like, “They gathered the men and arranged a search, the village went out to look. Even the priest came from the church, but no one was found in neither nanny nor crook.” When I first started playing I had the cynical notion that I’d grow annoyed by the sing-song narrative before too long. But the opposite happened. I don’t think the game would be nearly as charming without it.
To experience more of that wonderful writing, you’re going to have to flex your brain muscles a bit beyond what you might be used to. Milkmaid of Milky Way places a heavy emphasis on both item discovery and item interaction. Perhaps it’s an antiquated problem inherent in the point-and-click genre, but I realized pretty early on that I was going to spend a lot of time simply mashing two random items in my inventory together to see what worked. Over time, the game did a fine job teaching me to be more deliberate with my combinations. Again, patience is hugely important when playing through these experiences. Each and every screen acts as a puzzle, and it will take some time to figure out the tougher ones.
I’ve painted a largely rosy picture, but if I have one complaint about Milkmaid of the Milky Way it’s that it simply isn’t a big (or broad) enough experience. Even accounting for the half-dozen times I found myself stuck on a puzzle, I was able to finish the game in a little over two hours. Thankfully, I feel like Mattis did fine work keeping those two-hours fresh and well-paced, but I could easily see Ruth’s story expanded into a two or three-part series. It will be very interesting to see what the future holds for this promising new developer.
Milkmaid of the Milky Way is not for the shoot first, ask questions later crowd. It’s not going to offer up a buffet of gore, death and destruction. It won’t make you MLG. But it’s not entirely correct to say the game avoids testing your skills. It’s looking for those traits that require keen observation, deductive reasoning, and the capacity to connect point A to B. If you aren’t willing to search within yourself and draw upon those qualities, then there’s nothing here for you to enjoy. But folks that can appreciate the joy of experiencing a “light bulb” moment in a point-and-click adventure game have no reason to skip it, especially given its availability on mobile devices.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed) ; Publisher: machineboy ; Developer: Mattis Folkestad ; Players: 1 ; Released: January 5th, 2017 ; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Milkmaid of the Milky Way given to HeyPoorPlayer by the game’s publisher.