I’ve tried a few games now from indie developer Squiddershins, namely Excuse Me!, Cat Poke, and Jables’s Adventure. Much like the developer’s name, these are cute, silly, and not run-of-the-mill experiences, heavy on the pixel art and charm.
For instance, in Excuse Me!, you are trying to find the best place to fart, generally away from as many diners as possible, but time is ticking down, so hurry it up. Cat Poke is a slightly more traditional affair, seeing you solve puzzles revolving around making cats happy while stuck inside on a rainy day. Lastly, Jables’s Adventure is a weird platform adventure–the developer’s very own words–starring a young boy named Jables who is told he is a hero by a visiting hat-squid and goes off to do hero-like things, such as beating up lumberjacks. There are more I want to try, but let’s get on with the show, which is Tick Tock Isle.
In Tick Tock Isle, which came out at the end of November 2015, you control a young horologist named Strike who is accidentally sent back in time when he tries to restore a clock in an abandoned monolith in the present day. Y’know, the usual Monday on the job. Finding himself in the past, with the ability to jump between 2009 and 2010, Strike stops worrying so much about fixing the clock and rather fixing all these damaged people around him. Like the troubled girl, who needs musical inspiration to finish her song writing. Or that grumpy married couple, with the husband that continuously says he’ll mow the lawn, but never does. The game is a spiritual successor to Cat Poke, which means there’s a heavy reliance on story, character interaction, creative thinking, and poking around until something eventually happens.
Sure, I will describe Tick Tock Isle as a point-and-click adventure game, but truthfully, there’s no pointing, no clicking. You use the arrow keys on your keyboard to wander around the mansion, talk to people, collect items, and use those collected items on other things and/or people to advance the story. Instead of clicking on hotspots and people, you press the up arrow key whenever Strike is near something interactive, which means there’s no pixel hunting, but rather up arrow hunting. Pressing the Enter key brings up a status screen showing your inventory, a map, and a list of objectives, all three of which are sub-par in actually doing their job. The map is crude, tiny, and hard to follow. The list of objectives are so vague that they might have all just said “Play the game more” five times in a row. Lastly, the inventory…it’s ultimately a collection of the items you’ve found along the way, each with a short description, and they become grayed out after serving their use.
To mix up the to-ing and fro-ing action, Strike will occasionally stumble across two kids playing make believe with cardboard swords and castles. See the pic at the top of this blog post for further proof. Anyways, entering their hobbled-together fortress drops you into a platforming mini-game, where, if you make it to the end, you’ll get a specific item that certainly will help you solve a puzzle. These are short, basic platforming sections, where you can also use a sword to swat enemies away, but mostly rely on timing your jumps and avoiding getting hit. They are a quick, enjoyable break from trying to figure out what to do next, but they also feel out of place, like leftovers from a game jam tossed in for good measure.
Tick Tock Isle is not a super long game, of which I’m thankful, but I have to imagine that it would have been even shorter if you cut out all the necessary backtracking to the top of the tower to use the time traveling device when you want to move from one year to the other. It’s tedious and confusing until you learn how to speedrun all the doors and staircases, and I wish it could have just been a button press on some handheld device that Strike carried with him always. I also will just come out and say that I didn’t really understand what was happening by the game’s end or its implications or the plot altogether, and there were a couple of tasks in my objectives list that I hadn’t crossed off by the time credits dropped. Oh well. I’m not going back to 2010 or 2009 ever again.