Encodya is a point and click adventure game that exudes so much heartfelt earnestness that I wish I liked it more than I do. I don’t, though. It’s colourful and morally simple, but often too obtuse and clunky to feel like a kid-friendly introduction to adventure games. It references Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, but the puzzles aren’t clever or playful enough to stand as interesting twists on veteran Lucasarts titles. It lacks location variety and feels cramped and rushed despite its standard five hour runtime. The story didn’t propel the puzzles, and the puzzles didn’t pace the story. I feel like a cynical monster for not enjoying what is clearly a genuine and sincere passion project.
I got all that upfront because I’d like to spend most of the rest of the review talking about what I liked here. I don’t recommenced Encodya. In the market for a cyberpunk point and click? Plau Whispers of a Machine, Red Strings Club, or Technobabylon should be your go-to. Got kids? Show them Chuchel or even Monkey Island 3. Unless your budding adventure game fan is already very invested in Encodya’s admittedly unique look, I can’t see it sparking much love for the genre.
Right, let’s talk about something nice. Tina, Encodya’s 9 year old human protagonist, is confident, precocious, and driven in ways that reminded me how many games are unfairly patronising in their portrayal of young characters. She absolutely does not let being an orphan in a dystopian metropolis get to her, and was probably already coding while Atreus was still shoving crayons up his nostrils.
Encodya’s second protagonist is a robot named S.A.M. He’s funny in the way that all robots who don’t quite understand humans but love them anyway manage to be, and he’s entirely dedicated to caring for Tina. He’s also a real stickler for his law abiding programming, preventing him from doing typical adventure game things, like looting. He’s effectively the antithesis to Futurama’s Bender.
This is where the character swap comes in. Tina’s street orphan outlook means she has no such qualms about stealing from folk. She’s not as technically adept as S.A.M. though, and she doesn’t speak robot. You’ll need to swap between both of them often to make progress on Tina’s mission to complete her absent father’s mission to bring a splash of colour back into the world.
The city of Neo Berlin itself is a Blade Runner meets Futurama dystopia. It’s more parody than commentary, but with a whiff of tragedy, like the cyberspace addicts that roam the streets like zombies with VR headsets. The setting plays it all fairly close to what you’d expect, but there are a few nice touches. A lounge singer is locked in a contract that forces her to take song requests while she floats inside a tube at the back of a dingy restaurant. Billboards promise free nanny robots to every new child. A painfully bureaucratic robot receptionist blocks entry to the city archive. Each one proves that Encodya has good ideas, it just needs more of them to make Neo Berlin’s streets feel like part of a place, rather than a diorama.
There’s a disclaimer at the start of the game that says that Encodya doesn’t intend to criticise or portray any specific political viewpoints, and that it condemns any kind of discrimination, even if it admits that it does contain stereotypes. The main villain is an imperialistic, short tempered mayor named Rumpf. I looked into this. It’s a german word for ‘hull’, says the developer, nothing else. The game does want to criticise power structures, they say, but it isn’t meant as an allegory. I brought this up because I feel most people will make the most obvious connection. I’ll take the developers’ word for it. I’m not against mocking vile idiots, I just feel there are hundreds of more interesting ways to do so.
On that note, I really could have done without the buck teeth on the Japanese restaurant owner. The disclaimer states that stereotypes might have a point to them. Maybe my critical thinking skills are on the fritz, but I couldn’t find one here.
Right, let’s talk about something nice again! Encodya’s OST is really something. I’ve got a rule where I don’t try to write about music too much in game reviews, since you can have a listen here anyway. I will say that It does evoke Encodya’s better elements though; digital humanity, the soul in the machine, and the natural light at the end of a sickly neon-lit tunnel. If Encodya as a whole evoked these same feelings so well, I’d be recommending it without hesitation.