A Real Platonic Journey
HIGH A strong emotional narrative that wastes no time.
LOW Struggling to make one’s answers understood.
WTF Finding out only at the end about the command to insta-travel.
As Grotto begins, the player awakes by a fire in a cave. While we are not restrained, the connections to Plato’s famous allegory can already be made, because — similarly to the Greek’s philosopher’s retelling of Socrates’ theory about seeing the truth as shadows on a wall — the player will have to struggle to get to the truth and to communicate with others. But, well… that’s the role of a soothsayer.
Grotto is a first-person title where the main mechanic consists of answering people’s requests by looking at stars and consulting constellations. Each of these constellations will have a short fortune cookie-esque philosophy attached, which may or may not approach our actual intended answer. As things progress, the Soothsayer gains other instruments of divination, like bones or a calumet-like pipe, but the concept remains the same.
So, while there’s not much traditional gameplay in Grotto, it’s the narrative that takes precedence. In this sense, it’s exquisite how the writing keys in on the player’s struggles to using the right constellation to communicate what they mean, especially when some of these choices might mean life or death. For example, the Soothsayer will be consulted by the Brutes — a primitive tribe whose chief is dying. This illness causes a power struggle which will have serious consequences for everyone involved.
In Grotto‘s three-hour narrative, many things will happen, but not all is as dramatic as the Brutes’ quest to resolve their leadership woes. There are several moments of humor (perhaps a few too many), some touching and emotional moments, and even a couple of times when I was completely swept away by the beauty of the narrative. Unfortunately, once I was about two-thirds through I started feeling a bit of fatigue since all one does in a mechanical sense is to go back and forth between characters who ask questions and the constellations which act as answers.
Graphically, Grotto lives and dies on its character design, since there is little else to be seen in the Soothsayer’s dark cave lit only by fire. All characters are animals of some kind, very detailed and brought to life as 2D sprites. The animation is limited, but it’s lively enough to express the emotion required by the story. The soundtrack fares worse, though — there’s just a single mystic-flavored track playing almost constantly that starts to grate after a while.
Grotto can be best recommended to those who can look past simple, repetitive gameplay in service of a thick and emotional story. All others should look elsewhere.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Brainwash Gang and published by Digerati. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is not rated by the ESRB, but it contains several adult themes (sexual themes as well) along with blood and decapitated heads shown on screen. Definitely recommended for an adult audience.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colobrlind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature spoken dialogue. Text cannot be altered or resized. (See examples above.) There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. In my view, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game is controlled as a typical first person-view title, moving around with WASD and interacting with the mouse with some additional keyboard shortcuts. It is possible to remap the controls.