A pine-scented breath of fresh air
When I’m feeling overwhelmed with all the games I want to play, sometimes the perfect antidote is putting on something short that I can finish in an afternoon. After perusing through an itch.io bundle that I’ve had sitting around for over a year, I decided on Wide Ocean Big Jacket, and thankfully it was everything I needed from games right now.
Published by Tender Claws in February of 2020, Wide Ocean Big Jacket is the debut title from indie studio Turnfollow. It’s certainly one of the quirkier games I’ve played of late, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s a really simple walking sim game with a simple, offbeat art style. The story is told in a series of short vignettes, telling the story of a young girl named Mord, her boyfriend Ben, her aunt Cloanne, and uncle Brad as they spend a night camping.
After the past few years of quarantine, I’ve really been missing the outdoor time my family used to spend together when I was growing up at the foot of the Appalachian mountains. Wide Ocean Big Jacket felt really familiar to me in a way that I didn’t expect, and even though the art style is super minimal, this game came in to take me right back to those summers hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a game that makes you kind of stop and take it all in, which I didn’t realize how much I needed until I got it.
And Wide Ocean Big Jacket is hilarious. I was fully laughing out loud at points, especially when it came to Mord and Ben’s dialogue. It’s really difficult to write kids, but it’s even harder to write them in a way that’s both believable and stylized. Both of them have such fun, distinct personalities, and perfectly capture the awkwardness of a first relationship.
For all its restraint, the game really manages to use everything at its disposal to great effect. Even the interact preview text seems to have a mind of its own, and makes for some of the best jokes of the whole run. I was also impressed with the sound design, because the attention to detail there is what really made the environments feel alive.
While being a sweet little slice-of-life game, Wide Ocean Big Jacket also manages to land some genuine emotional beats. I was impressed with its ability to maintain its unique tone and charm while still touching on tough topics like divorce, losing one’s virginity, and the marital dilemma of having children. It feels more like these are real people that we’re looking in on, with all their quirks and flaws and strengths.
I can’t stress enough how impressed I am with these characterizations — Wide Ocean Big Jacket manages to create some of the most distinct style and characters in a game I’ve ever seen, and all under a two-hour runtime.
Any skepticism I have about the current state of games is entirely my own fault, because the indie scene has never been stronger. If your library is feeling a bit stale these days, I really recommend you go seek out some small, simple indie games to try, because recently they’ve completely revitalized my hope in the industry. I may be late to the party on a lot of these titles, but at least I still showed up, right?
Story Beat is a weekly column discussing anything and everything to do with storytelling in video games.