Wide Ocean Big Jacket @ Nintendo Switch
Emoji summary: 🏕👨👩👧👦🌊
Review by: GDLP
the start of this year has been hectic, fast, bad on my anxiety belly and good on my legs. On evenings when my awakeness has beat dinner, love island, meme-making and taken me all the way to past-midnight minutes, i’ve been cramming in a half-arsed play of Link’s Awakening in a stupid attempt to unwind. I don’t know if I enjoyed it. no, you kno what, I didn’t. but I don’t think I admitted this to myself until the island egg evaporated into magic sky dust and the art style shifted anime. i was underwhelmed or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood, but i’d started it and needed to finish. It’s weird - I don’t care about bailing on films or books if we’re not jelling, but I reeeally don’t like leaving games half-eaten. if I step away and come back, sometimes i lose track of what it is I was supposed to be doing; my hands forget their place; N i need someone to brush their hands on my shoulders and hint me in the right direction. if i quit, the game is left with a bite mark in its side that won’t fade. it’s like leaving the adhesive label under a plate or bowl from tesco: u need to take it off right away or it will be unmoveable, faded image and still clear edges, surviving dishwashes and finger scratches at the sink. I had to finish the toy Zelda game and its annoying puzzles before i could move on and i wanted a story-first game to follow.
as i do this slow slipping into game criticism (and games, more and more, are all i’m able to write about because i’m staying home a lot to help look after my Nan and also give my uncle a break from caring), i’m noticing the same thing is happening that i went through when we started this website 4 yrs ago. that is, we started writing about exhibitions from the top and went backwards/below, crouched down to see the underground and artist-led stuff happening. it took a while to get to grips with their scales, budgets, workforces and politics but generally we found we liked spending time there more than we did in the halls of institutions, where our words didn’t even reach the sides. now, i’m looking to independent game companies for the same thing: for games that play fast and loose, dreamy and janky and new. back here again figuring out what is what, i can’t stop asking twitter for help, learning who’s who and keeping a list of recommendations; Mutazione and Firewatch are both downloaded and waiting. and that brings us to tonight. After me and my uncle had eaten an entire bag of quorn chicken nuggets between us and storm dennis had gone to sleep, i closed my bedroom door and pressed start on Wide Ocean Big Jacket, a small game released this year by Turnfollow who are a studio based in LA.
my room is set up so the tv is mounted above my desk and i play games sat sideways on my bed with a big pink Wilko cushion between me and the wall. i started Wide Ocean Big Jacket upright, and half an hour in I melted, lay down, had to think to blink my eyes open. i played the rest of the game like i was projecting a dream outside of myself, so calmed by the game’s little circle of stories that I trusted the characters to take me with them; i’d drifted off in the backseat of their car because the roads were smooth and they knew where they were going. In Wide Ocean Big Jacket, an aunt and uncle are taking their tween niece and her boyfriend on a one night camping trip. They arrive, unpack, go find the toilets, and the niece wees in a bush to make the most of the great outdoors. there is a night-time beach visit and cartwheels on the sand. the niece asks her aunt about when people should have sex for the first time; and the older couple have an almost-fight because he thinks he might want kids now, even though they both agreed they didn’t want any back when they got married. they kiss and make up. it’s fine. the niece finds the perfect stick on a walk by the stream, they pass the stick to one another and then leave it in the fire for good luck and good love before packing up and driving home.
that’s it, kinda like reading a comic but it took marginally more work to turn the pages. about an hour of witty, soft conversation, and of concern too: these little moments of building up the young people so they grow up un-ruined by adults. I loved the language itself, and the characters were clear and sweet, achieved from not that much writing really. didn’t care so much for the visual style but even that was pulled up by certain elements or props: the chicken pox amount of chunky stars in the sky, the glow-in-the-dark skeleton that lights the campsite at night, even Ben’s foggy round glasses that take up almost all of his face. i was here for story more than anything, which here felt like it was mapped out like a spirograph drawing. symmetrical, concentric, it came together even when i wasn’t sure how it might / the four characters bound together by this commitment to one another, alone with each other and their thoughts under big digital trees in a national park. In April, me, my sister, my uncle, cousin, his girlfriend, my boyfriend and my friend are walking Snowdon together for my uncle’s birthday. it’s not necessarily a special birthday (he would disagree) and we aren’t all mountain climbing fit but it’s a reason to be outside together and i can’t wait. bring a packed lunch, have a chat, little sit downs, a drink-drink, and i will likely sing she’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes yee haw. Wide Ocean Big Jacket was like a primer for that walk, n it gave a really specific family-warmth i didn’t know games could whisper bc i’ve only been playing the big brand products. but i found it outside, here in the shade. i’m now really excited to play more feelings.