HIGH Wonderfully sweet, wonderfully human.
LOW Looking for that cellphone.
WTF The numerous typos in the added content.
As a critic, I play a lot of games – so many that it’s hard to keep track at times. But despite seeing such a wide array of titles, what’s something that doesn’t crop up as often as aliens, zombies or Nazis? Simple conversations.
I don’t mean when an NPC with an exclamation mark over their head recites a few lines directing the player to a certain Dark Cave in a specific part of the Dangerous Mountains, and I don’t mean when there’s A Dilemma and a player needs to choose between the Red or Blue response.
No, what I mean is that there’s a severe lack of realistic, human characters relating to other realistic, human characters in non-combat situations. It’s incredibly rare to find a game that takes time to create scenes where people are simply engaging with each other in a relatable way. Even rarer than that are games that manage to do it well. It might not have much company, but Wide Ocean, Big Jacket is absolutely in this category.
The premise is that a young married couple are taking their 13-year-old niece and her sort-of boyfriend out on a camping trip, and they talk… and that’s it.
And honestly? It’s brilliant.
Player interaction is quite limited, mostly consisting of clicking on the next character to converse with, or walking around small environments on the way to the next conversation point. An item might need to be picked up here or there, but nothing more than that. The focus is entirely on this small group of people, their thoughts, and how they communicate when out in the middle of the woods with a popup tent, a few hot dogs and the ocean nearby.
With a game designed in this way, the heavy lifting would, of course, have to be done by the dialogue, and Wide Ocean, Big Jacket doesn’t disappoint. The characters feel authentic and genuine – I could easily imagine being on a trip with them and having the very conversations that the game presents. The jokes, the attitudes, the questions and the uncertainties all ring true.
When the niece asks if sex is cool, I cringed right alongside the aunt. When the aunt’s husband wants to discuss the idea of having kids after they both agreed that they wouldn’t, I felt that pain. The developers manage to capture these small moments from a life and make them shine exactly right by not dissecting them in expository monologues or delivering a clear resolution to any of them. These people are living in the moment, and they bring the player right along with them.
Wide Ocean, Big Jacket is a brief experience, perhaps 90 minutes including extra scenes recently added via patch, but it’s just the right length for delivering a richly-colored snapshot into the lives of its subjects, and as a memento of this brief camping trip where four people connect, it’s just perfect.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Turnfollow and published by Tender Claws. It is currently available on Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Crude Humor, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco. This is a warm, personal sort of game where people relate to each other — it could easily be a few scenes from a coming-of-age film from the ’80s, and I mean that in the best possible sense. There’s nothing graphic, it’s all just talking about various topics while camping.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and had no problems. It’s all text-based with no action or anything that relies upon audio cues.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable, but they are exceedingly simple. The left stick moves a character or selects which character to talk to, and A chooses it.