Written by: Amanda Van Parys
Originally published at: Review | Unusual Findings - XboxEra
Those who find themselves hankering for more Stranger Things might consider turning to Unusual Findings, a point-and-click puzzle game set during Christmas in the 1980s. Vinny, Nick, and Tony are three best friends, all grounded, who sneak out to use a cable signal descrambler to watch pay-per-view adult movies. But when they turn on the descrambler, they receive a strange alien signal, and seconds later, an object crashes from the sky into the woods nearby. When they reach the woods, a park ranger is killed, and the boys decide to find a way to stop the murderous alien from causing any more harm. So let’s get into the Xbox Era review of Unusual Findings.
Unusual Findings is a horror-based adventure dealing with an alien invader and dripping with ‘80s nostalgia… Except most of it is just a little off with references to ‘80s IPs such as “Galaxy Wars”, Ponies, the Amazing Arachnodude, and Supersam.
I was instantly engaged in the game. The dialogue between Vinny and his dad for the first few minutes was a little awkward, the voice acting jumped out at me as a little strained. But after I put that out of my head and just decided to experience the game, I was all in. The very first scene was a little frustrating to me and that turned out to be somewhat of an omen for the rest of my experience.
The gameplay is simple, you enter a series of scenes from a map comprised of the different streets and locations of the small town, Southplanes. You enter each scene and walk through them as a side-scroll. You click on the screen to move the friends forward and faster clicks will make the characters move quicker, which is appreciated. However, it is rare that you can simply walk in a straight line without running into an object that will prompt the interactive menu, and quite annoying when you simply want to get across a scene quickly without being interrupted by clicking on cars in the foreground or signs on doors. Along the way of each scene, you click on various interactive objects such as bushes, trash cans, doors, and electronics when the reticle turns red and a menu pops up with grab, inspect, or talk options.
When you talk to people, you immediately get all the dialogue prompts and can pick which questions or phrases in any order. The dialogue options do not change until you complete the puzzle corresponding to the character, when maybe one or two of the options change or drop off, but when I did complete a puzzle with a character, I found that there’s no additional dialogue to help you with the next step or what do to after. I completed an obscure riddle in a video game for one character… No additional dialogue. I distracted another character to steal something, I go back to the scene… No additional dialogue. A sister runs out the door with something I need… I can’t find her, even at the place I know where she’s going!
I must admit here that this game grew increasingly frustrating to me with too many of the puzzles being unnecessarily difficult and convoluted. I’m not a dumb person, and maybe my post-Covid brain fog has affected me, but this game made me feel dumb.
After 6.5 hours and very little progression, my strategy became to go around and try to gather everything I could and deal with sorting it out later; or use all the items I collected on every interactable object, hoping to get some sort of clue to progress. I scavenged everything I could—which was not much—but to get most of the items to interact with the puzzles and characters, they all required the items to be fixed, exchanged, or improved in some way, leaving my options extremely limited.
This was the single-most frustrating aspect: you know what you need to do, but you’re constantly limited because once you figure out what you have to do, there’s an extra step to figure out how to make it WORK. For example, you need to find a comic book or game to trade for something you need, however, you find a game and, surprise, it doesn’t work. You find a comic book, but surprise, you can’t take it. I understand it’s a puzzle adventure game, but the amount of clues you get despite 4-6 dialogue options for each character is disappointingly meager.
Graphics and Sound
As expected, the graphics are a nostalgic retro pixelated aesthetic, wide trunk bodies with skinny legs and all. Some objects looked better than others—Christmas decorations in one yard looked great, yet the scene for the woods, arguably more significant to progression, was dark with important objects barely discernable from the surroundings.
One of the best elements was the music, as seems to be the case with so many indie games. The ambient music was definitely a vibe. One scene in particular had music that reminded me of Twin Peaks and I immediately paused to reflect, thinking that maybe I should play a Twin Peaks inspired game rather than this one.
In conclusion, I had high hopes for this game and I was excited to play it. The aesthetic and the story really intrigued me and I was so eager to discover the tale as I went along, and sadly, I didn’t get to experience much of it. Unusual Findings has a promising premise but the movement and convoluted puzzles ruined it for me. After spending an exasperating 6.5 hours with very little enjoyment, I will not be returning to finish it. Maybe others with more understanding of the genre will enjoy this more than me and for them, I wish them the best.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox, Playstation, Switch, PC, Linux|
|Release Date||October 12th, 2022|
|Developer||Epic Llama Games|
|Rated||T for Teen|