Off-Peak and Off Kilter
Watch the video review above or read the written review below.
Tales From Off-Peak City is like an interactive fusion of an Art Gallery and a Jazz club with some pizza delivery thrown in. It’s every bit as wacky, fun and wild as this description sounds.
The story starts the player off aboard a rowboat, heading towards the bizarre Off-Peak City. Before me was a mysterious woman and a man with an incredibly flexible neck who bobs his head in spine-destroyingly perfect time with the soundtrack. The woman gave me a task to steal a saxophone from a man named Caetano, forging a fake resume for me so I could get a job at his shop and infiltrate his operation.
Once I had ingratiated myself into Caetano’s Pizzeria, I was tasked with creating some deliciously doughy pizzas and delivering them to the hungry denizens of the city.
My first pizza I messed up because I thought topping it progressed through stages, and I ended up confirming the pie to be baked with nothing but tomato sauce on it! Though Caetano praised my boldness at making a cheeseless pizza, I couldn’t help but be a little frustrated at my foolishness. Still, it was very amusing how my first customer was actually overjoyed with my saucy yet bland delicacy, saying a cheeseless pizza was “like an orchestra without the violins, but who needs the violins?”
To make up for the earlier mistake of under-topping my first pizza, I started to lavish my future creations with a veritable avalanche of culinary accessories.
I scoured every nook and cranny of the environment to find extra pizza-making ingredients. These range from the esoteric like chocolate to the fancy like beluga roe, all the way to the grotesquely absurd like synthetic brain matter. Whatever toppings I could find though, it was always immensely enjoyable to sprinkle them onto the pizza so copiously they were literally overflowing off the heavily laden pie. I always looked forward to the eloquent reactions of the customers to my topping choices as they critiqued each aspect of the pizza as intensely as a Picasso painting.
From the core storyline to the ambiance, Off-Peak City is an intensely musical game. Moving from place to place seamlessly transitions between different genres. Strolling over to one house will produce a spicy salsa rhythm whilst another will be playing a guitar riff. There’s one house seemingly taken over by cats who occupy all the windows, swaying their tails like a metronome to an ambient rhythm. This entire city thrums with a cacophony of different sounds.
Instead of voice acting, every character’s speech is conveyed by text that hovers near their head and a rhythm that represents their personality. More highly strung people may speak accompanied by tones of a screeching violin whilst more laid back ones may be conveyed with the beat of some bongo drums. It’s a nice little expressionistic touch and reminded me a bit of how the teachers speak in the Peanuts cartoons.
The visuals are gorgeously trippy. The city skyline looms over July Avenue in twisted spires that could have come from a Doctor Seuss book and practically every building along the street has its own aesthetic. One building is a massive beatbox spewing out quasi-Vaporwave beats.
A giant roulette wheel spins around in the middle of the street and one stone house with the face of a person lays on its side crying a steady stream of tears into the canal. When I delivered a pizza to this house, its mouth closed around the tasty treat and started smiling. I was left to wonder whether the customer was inside the house or if the house itself was the customer. I liked how strange little mysteries like this were sprinkled around my playthrough.
There are puzzles to be solved, but they’re all fairly intuitive and helpfully hinted at by a band of teenaged musicians, with the solution being seldom more than brisk jog away. For this type of game, straightforward puzzles like slotting a missing horn onto a skull or a missing eye onto a statuette are welcome. I wouldn’t want to be scratching my head too much at the puzzles as I wanted to reserve that time for scratching my head at artful craziness it all.
It was honestly a little hard to get too invested in the characters as this is a bizarre world completely without any sense of real causality. One moment characters are talking normally, the next they’ve transformed into some esoteric shapes or disappeared. Though this does give the proceedings a sense of mystique, I was often too confused about what was actually happening to know what to feel about it.
Other times, I encountered characters and learned their backstories within one giant expository eavesdropping session, receiving a little achievement for doing so. However, since these backstories weren’t integrated with my experience other than me being simply a passive observer of a conversation, I didn’t feel this really was much of an achievement.
It is possible to create a world that’s totally bizarre that also invests the player in its story, but the world of Off-Peak City creates such a slippery sense of reality it was hard for me to get my emotional hooks into it and become invested. As much as I loved the surrealism, I hope future volumes make the player more of an active participant in a story with genuine stakes instead of a passing observer of an avant-garde performance.
Fundamentally, Tales From Off-Peak City is a walking simulator with some pretty straightforward puzzles thrown in. It lets you explore its surreal world at a glacial pace, but never gets boring. Unlike many walking simulators set in more realistic worlds where a lot of time is taken up traversing more mundane scenery, this is a world where practically every building and locale is a work of evocative art. If you’re a bohemian beatnik type looking to take a walk down the road less traveled then Off-Peak City is a vibe you can jam to.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Cosmo D Studios LLC; Developer: Cosmo D; Players: 1; Released: May 14th, 2020;
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Tales of Off-Peak City given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher