daymare Town, Nerds Raging review

“Daymare Town” is one of those odd little games that’s hard to classify. On the surface, it’s straight out point-and-click adventure, but there are also elements of puzzle game to it, with a soupcon of RPG mixed in. Made by Pastel Games, and particularly the brainchild of game/puzzle designer Mateusz Skutnik, “Daymare Town” has become something of a legend in the annals of browser games, and hopefully some folk who haven’t yet had the chance to enjoy it will read this review and give it a whirl.

Technically, when I refer to “Daymare Town” as a whole, I’m talking about three games: “Daymare Town 1″, “Daymare Town 2″, and “Daymare Town 3″, but since they’re all quite short I want to examine all of them, and really reflect on the experience as a whole.

The premise of the game is the same throughout; your never-quite-properly-seen player character is trapped in a strange, near-empty town, and somehow must escape. There is no music outside buildings, and no voicework; just the sound of howling winds and the call of the occasional bird. This may sound dull, but it really adds to the atmosphere of desolation, and the isolation of your character. In “Daymare Town 1″, you seem alone at first, but the more you explore, the more shadowy figures you notice watching you. Eventually, you encounter others also seemingly trapped in the town, but never more than can be counted on one hand.

”Daymare Town 1″ is, in some ways, the purest of the three, perfectly capturing the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a strange, semi-abandoned world. But it’s also, by far the hardest. You have to click on EVERYTHING, and go back and forth multiple times; it’s extremely easy to miss vital items, or even doorways. In addition, the character also has to locate every bird they can, because…um…somebody likes birds. And some of them are near-impossible to locate. There are points when you will be stuck with no idea what to do because you missed an item that looked like a random squiggle or stone. Regardless, the atmosphere is deeply engrossing, and if you have any head for puzzles, you won’t quit until you’re out.

Of course, you don’t make it very far, because you immediately land at the gates of a new town. This town is a bit larger and more heavily populated than that of “Daymare Town 1″, but it’s also a lot more forgiving. No more mystery searching for birds, no more all-but hidden items, and a slightly more linear storyline. You’re slightly less isolated than in “Daymare Town 1″, since you immediately encounter and interact with different creatures, even bartering and trading with them. Notice I said “creatures”, not “humans”.

It’s also more obviously dark, involving moments like digging a maggot out of rotting meat, butchers walled up in their shops, and the Cherry Embassy (I am not going to say any more about that, because I don’t want to spoil it, but you will be freaked out). In addition, it also has a lot more choices. There are different ways to solve particular puzzles, and you can approach them as you choose. This gives you more of a feel of autonomy than you had in “Daymare Town 1″, and that carries you all the way through to the end.

Your escape from this town, however, ends pretty badly when you crash-land (don’t ask) in yet ANOTHER weird town. This one actually has a hospital, which is where you wake up after God knows how long. ”Daymare Town 3″ is so far the last in the series, though supposedly a fourth is in the works. In many ways, this game is the richest and most interesting, with the largest world and cast of characters. However, it suffers from what I’m going to call “Uninvited”-itis; you can pick up EVERYTHING, and need less than half of it to just finish the damned game. Of course, if you want to get all the achievements (another innovation for this third chapter), you’ll need almost all the items, but the hitch here is that you also have a limited inventory, and cannot drop things. It gets intensely frustrating trying to figure out what to carry, what to leave, what to buy, and what to sell. This is somewhat mitigated, however, by a refining of “Daymare Town 2″‘s choice system, in which you can decide how you want to proceed with your quest for freedom, and which items to use where.

On the other hand, we also have a bit of a return to “Daymare Town 1″‘s obscurity, although this time it’s in terms of the achievements rather than the story as a whole. That’s an improvement to “Daymare Town 1″, but it’s still beyond me how we’re supposed to figure out how to unlock certain achievements (including several where you have to give a number of items in exactly the right order to certain characters – get them out of order and it doesn’t count, oh, and you lose the items) without the help of a walkthrough.

Overall, “Daymare Town 3″ is unquestionably the richest of the trilogy, but my favourite has to be “Daymare Town 2″. While I love interacting with the other characters of this weird, Gahan Wilson-esque world, “Daymare Town 3″ does so to such an extent that you lose some of the howling isolation that made the first game such a unique experience. In addition, while “Daymare Town 3″ learned from its predecessors’ mistakes and offered a more linear, less elusive storyline, it added an achievement system which, in some ways, took the whole thing full circle. ”Daymare Town 2″, to me, offered the perfect balance of story, eeriness, desolation, and puzzles. It was also the game that gave me the most disturbing moment; there’s a point in the game where you have to enter a painting. In the painting is a house. In the house is another painting. Entering that painting, you find an identical house, with an identical painting. Entering THAT painting gave you an identical house…

It was late at night when I played that bit, and I was so genuinely unsettled I had to turn off my machine and go to bed.

All in all, “Daymare Town” in its entirety is an experience like no other. With unique, striking artwork, intriguing puzzles, and an atmosphere that can’t be beat, this is a town that’s definitely worth taking a trip to.