Up In The Land of Never-Night

HIGH Saving a beached whale.

LOW Trying to navigate a platforming scene with terrible controls.

WTF What a weird way to settle a decades-old grudge.

Embracelet is a sweet, quiet title.

Unpretentious to a fault, it’s a small-scale adventure that takes a lonely teen from the big city on a journey to learn about his late grandfather’s small-town upbringing. Of course, this being a coming-of-age story, he’ll learn valuable lessons about himself.

Also, he has a bracelet that gives him telekinetic powers, because this is still a video game.

Set on a small island off the coast of Norway, Embracelet puts characters in the shoes of Jesper, an alienated kid who travels north to fulfill his grandfather’s final wish of returning a bracelet to where it belongs — a wish complicated by the fact that he has no idea how to go about it.

At first Jesper simply wanders around, talking to the locals and looking for his grandfather’s old homestead. Then, things get stranger and more interesting as fantastical elements of the story ratchet up.

The inclusion of a telekinesis bracelet brings an element of magical realism to the game, letting the player know that all bets are off.

In practical terms, using the bracelet isn’t a complex mechanic. It’s only usable in proscribed, story-based situations, but it’s an important inclusion nonetheless, because it serves as a constant reminder of how dangerous unchecked emotion can be. Jesper’s grandfather spent his life regretting the way he let anger get the better of him and the terrible harm he caused with it, so it’s up to Jesper to make it right and avoid going down a similar path himself.

Navigating the small island can prove frustrating given the awkward control scheme. Jesper can’t turn around without making a huge circle, and while this isn’t a problem when moving from area to area, whenever the game moves indoors, navigation becomes a frustrating ordeal. Embracelet provides a workaround — players can use the right thumbstick to move a cursor around the screen and click on the area they want to investigate.

Unfortunately, this cursor proves frustrating for different reasons, as the AI pathfinding is complete garbage. Jesper tries to walk straight towards the point of interest, and more often than not, gets hung up on geometry. Apparently the developers knew this was an issue but had no idea how to fix it, so after ten seconds of walking in place, he simply teleports to the interaction point. Not an ideal solution, but it’s functional.

While Embracelet may fail some technical tests, the story more than makes up for any shortcomings.

An intimate story, Embracelet gives players a chance to get to know Jesper and the islanders he meets as they learn about the joys and struggles of living in the far north. No one is particularly verbose here — conversations are only ever a few lines long, and the responses the player can make are generally simple and to the point, but the game manages to express quite a bit with the most minor expressions.

Embracelet isn’t all exploration and chatting, though — there are also puzzles to solve. They’re fairly simple affairs where the player must use telekinesis to fix broken things, but they’re intriguing in the way each one gives a deeper understanding of the island’s concerns. There’s a sense that these rural people have been abandoned by the world and Jesper has an outsider’s view on the situation, allowing him to gradually discover just how rich and satisfying their way of life can be. With his powers, he can help them preserve it in meaningful ways.

Embracelet is a brief experience, but the journey is a satisfying one and this charming idyll is absolutely worth visiting.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Mattis Folkestad and published by Machineboy. It is currently available on PC, Switch and iOS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was not reviewed by the ESRB but it contains Violence and Alcohol Use. I think this should be largely safe even for younger teens. All foul language is represented with cute symbols, and while there are certainly threatening situations, there’s no extreme violence on display.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game with the sound off and encountered no difficulties. All information is provided via text, which cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. Players move Jesper with the left thumbstick, and control an onscreen cursor with the right. Face buttons are used to interact with the world and choose conversational responses.

Daniel Weissenberger
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