A Memoir Blue Review: I laughed, I cried, I called my mom
When Turning Red’s director Domee Shi was asked why she centered her Pixar short Bao around a mother/son relationship, she responded that she “only had eight minutes to tell this story. For a mother/daughter story, I’d need an entire feature film to unpack that.”
Not to knock the extremely special bond between any parent and any child, but as the oldest daughter of a single mother, I understand the sentiment. As a mother, who is a daughter but a reflection of ourselves blossoming into their own beautiful person? Someone whose joys are your joys, whose sorrows are your sorrows, whose very existence makes your heart swell to bursting? As a daughter, who is your first confidant and companion but your mother? The one who reads you stories, sings songs from her own childhood with you, and passes down treasured recipes and tales from her mother before her? Truly, a healthy mother/daughter relationship is a bond deeply rooted in our very DNA, one that carries us back through the eons all the way to our ancestral mother of all mothers, Mitochondrial Eve. I’m reminded of the words Kirsten Dunst’s Marie Antoinette said to her firstborn daughter: “A boy would have been the Son of France, but you, Marie Thérèse, shall be mine.”
It’s this precious relationship that is explored in A Memoir Blue, a powerfully emotional interactive storytelling experience developed by Cloisters Interactive and published by Annapurna. Available on just about any major platform you can think of, A Memoir Blue is a short but bittersweet swim down memory lane with a price to match its length. Diving deep into complex topics that are simultaneously Asian-coded yet relatable to anyone with a mother who did the best they could with the hand they were dealt, A Memoir Blue is a beautiful story that continues to unfold long after the controller has been put away.
A Memoir Blue focuses on a young woman named Miriam, who we learn from the beginning is an accomplished swimmer who is, figuratively and literally, neck-deep in trophies and accolades. While relaxing in her living room one day, a song gently hums from an old radio — one that calls to something deep within Miriam that had been buried long ago. As the music continues, Miriam finds herself pulled below the water and under the surface of her psyche, thoughts, emotions, and memories swirling around her as she swims through her own mind. All of this focuses predominately on her mother and herself when she was a young girl, the two of them striking it out on their own, their grief over the lost future and hopes for a new one coming with them. What is her soul trying to tell her?
As A Memoir Blue is a relatively short experience (1 – 2 hours tops), I do not want to spoil much of the story; instead, I’ll talk more about what made it so impactful. First, the aesthetics — they’re absolutely glorious. The music is melodic and relaxing, sure to soothe anyone who plays the game. The art direction, however, is some next level stuff that we sometimes see in film and animation but rarely in gaming. It’s not just the overall style, per se, but the fact that there’s two separate ones that blend beautifully together — the CGI representing Miriam’s present and the traditional hand-drawn animation a vision of her past. Complete with eye-popping colors that are absolute eye candy, it’s safe to say that every frame in A Memoir Blue is a screenshot.
I mentioned that A Memoir Blue is Asian-coded, which seems silly to say about characters that very much look Asian; what I mean by this is how the characters react to certain things. Although there are a number of instances where this was visible, the biggest example of this to me is Miriam’s struggle with perfectionism. It’s something my Korean-American husband work through together, so it was something I could immediately recognize when Miriam was quite literally drowning in her success. Coupled with a mother who didn’t always attend her swim meets because she was busy sacrificing for the small family, A Memoir Blue cannot be separated from its Asian roots. It’s quite nuanced if this doesn’t speak to you culturally, but if it does, it packs a punch when you see it.
That’s not to say that non-Asians won’t understand A Memoir Blue’s messaging; again, as the oldest daughter of a single mother, it wasn’t hard to instantly put myself in Miriam’s shoes. Who else was raised by a single mother who worked long hours to provide for her children? Who else saw our mothers as rock solid pillars of strength before the divorce, only to witness them occasionally crumble in overwhelming moments afterwards? As adults looking backward, how many of us can reminisce contentedly about quality time spent in each other’s company, while simultaneously regretting bitter fights and hurtful words? These are not experiences tethered to any one race or culture, but are a shared memory between all children of struggling single mothers who did their best — who put a smile on during the day and who cried alone at night.
There’s a silent third character in A Memoir Blue, and that’s the water itself. As an award-winning swimmer, Miriam should be as comfortable in the water as she is on land, and in many instances, this is true. As she recalls tender moments with her mother, the water is as free as air; during more turbulent times, however, the water is restrictive and even violent. For non-swimmers, this might make sense to think of water (and especially water levels to gamers) in this way, but consider Miriam’s literal expertise in this field. The fact that something so second nature to her is concomitantly providing her mobility and anchoring her to the ocean floor speaks volumes.
I couldn’t help but think of my own relationship with my mother while playing A Memoir Blue. I cherished the early years before the divorce, baking cookies, playing games, and singing songs together. But I was mostly reminded of the times after the divorce, when she sat up late at night figuring out where to pinch pennies so we could afford to keep food on the table and still have enough to care for my pet cat. I remembered the Christmas I learned how to be grateful, initially upset that I had received a pair of ugly shoes but instantly silenced when my mom quietly said “you need new shoes and this was all I could afford.” I thought of the fights we’d had in my early teens, followed by the regret in my late teens. But most of all, A Memoir Blue forced me to look at my mother as she was then through the lens that I have now — not as a little girl, but as a grown woman — and I realized that a mother’s unconditional love for her daughter holds the most precious, beautifully raw and wholesome power this world will ever know, reinforced a thousand times over by the pure and innocent love a young daughter has for her mother.
I feel bad for saying this considering how incredible the experience was (and the fact that I’m still sobbing as I write this), but, despite the moving story, A Memoir Blue is likely best experienced on PC. I say this because the sensitivity was just a little too strong on PS4 controllers with no option to reduce it, so trying to click on small items like fish or balloons was an exercise in frustration at times. It wasn’t enough to truly register, but it did break the flow from time to time, and with such an emotionally intense title, that’s a damn shame. Still, as the saying goes “it is better to have experienced A Memoir Blue on PS4 than to not have experienced it at all” (or something like that).
A Memoir Blue is like a mother’s love for her daughter — quiet at times, turbulent at others, but all-encompassing and soothing when our hearts are heavy. It is a powerful reminder of how far our mothers will go to keep us whole, to give us more, and to do the best with the cards they’ve been dealt. A Memoir Blue is the best game focusing on mother/daughter relationships ever made, and if you love interactive storybooks and have tissues at the ready, I’m sure you’ll agree. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go call my mom.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC, XBox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, PS5, PS4 (reviewed); Publisher: Annapurna; Developer: Cloisters Interactive; Players: 1; Released: March 24, 2022; MSRP: $7.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a digital copy of A Memoir Blue provided by the publisher.