App of the week: Burly Men at Sea review
Batten down the hatches – it’s time to go on a boaty and beardy touchscreen quest with many a watery end
As long as home computers have existed, there have been adventure games to play on them. But with touchscreens, such tales have come alive, and Burly Men at Sea is the latest title to captivate Stuff HQ.
The game features three hulking sailors with magnificent beards. But wait… there’s more.
After finding a mysterious map in a bottle, Steady, Hasty and Brave set sail on an exciting adventure – before immediately getting swallowed whole by a whale. You might think this would cramp their style, but our beardy heroes press on, hardy seafarers that they are.
A whale of a time
Much of what follows comprises charming, hugely entertaining encounters of the folklore kind.
Control is minimal – you drag a circular viewport, expanding it to coax the men to move. Sometimes, other objects can be prodded, which may or may not have a bearing on the plot. But although interaction is pared back, each set piece is packed full of breezily written witty dialogue, sparse but beautiful visuals, and superb audio.
At any moment, you might find the trio arguing with a mountain-sized troll with a penchant for horticulture, or attempting to cheer up a down-on-their-luck Charon, depressed about the lack of promotion opportunities in ferrying people to the afterlife – especially when they’re not terribly keen on going just yet.
Within half an hour or so, the quest will end, in fairly abrupt fashion. You might feel short-changed until you realise the burly men are caught in a kind of whimsical Groundhog Day, taking regular drowning on their (very hairy) chins as just another aspect of their tale.
You then get the chance to set off again, trying to find different pathways, coaxing a smattering of puzzling out of the game.
Throughout, the production feels like a living children’s book, bestowing the kind of fascination you see in the face of a child pawing at a chunky tome of illustrations and wonder.
Yet this is smart, carefully constructed storytelling with more than enough to entertain players of any age enthralled by amusing story-driven games. Think Pixar, Simogo minus the horror, or the kind of soul found in Samorost 3.
Death is not the end
All that knocks Burly Men at Sea slightly off course is its repetitive nature. With every journey bookended by the same two scenes, and even the branching between them being fairly limited, you may eventually hanker for a skip button.
But perhaps kids have further lessons for us here: there’s joy to be found in finding new things in the familiar, and stories needn’t be hours-long quests of angst.
Indeed, closer inspection finds dialogue cleverly subtly changing on subsequent play-throughs, and the adventure is far more satisfying when you decide not to rush.
This is a storybook to return to whenever you fancy jumping back into its enchanting waters, rewarding those who choose not to blaze through the entire thing in a single sitting.
Burly Men at Sea is available for Android, iOS and Steam.
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An interactive storybook that’s playful, artistic, stylish, smart, entertaining, and ideal for all ages. Superb.
Imaginative storytelling and snappy dialogue
Smart controls, fantastic visuals and fab audio
Stories can be stored and ordered as hardbacks
Repetition may grate after a while
Some interaction requirements are a bit cryptic