I’m a sucker for the classic point and click adventure game genre. My first experience was way back in 1987 with Maniac Mansion on the Commodore 64. My favorites have always had three essential qualities to them: clever puzzles, compelling characters, and a nice dose of comedic absurdity. That’s probably why I went on to enjoy the King’s Quest games from Sierra Online and later LucasArts games, such as The Secret of Monkey Island and Full Throttle. When I learned last year that Trüberbrook was coming to the Nintendo Switch and that all of the locations were hand-made with miniatures I was intrigued. Add in some sci-fi weirdness and a mysterious storyline and I was sold! Although I did enjoy some parts of the game, I came away unimpressed with several facets of the gameplay and storytelling that just fell flat. Your mileage may vary.
You play as Hans Tannhauser, a scientist with a strong understanding of physics and conceptual theories. The game takes place in the 1960s in a small village in Germany called, appropriately enough, Trüberbrook. You’ve won a trip to the small community via a lottery you don’t even remember entering! That in and of itself should set off some alarms that all is not as it seems. As you begin to explore and interact with some of the townsfolk it becomes apparent that the development team was going for a Twin Peaks vibe. Quirky characters, odd dialog, strange mannerisms, and a slow plodding jazzy soundtrack add to the atmosphere.
Like most games in this genre, you’ll be able to look at a bunch of items and often interact with many of them to various degrees of success. There are items to find and add to your inventory. Once you have an item that might interact with an object, highlighting it with your cursor will show an indicator that you can try to use it to see if anything happens. Most of the puzzles in the game are very trial and error based, although sometimes they make logical sense.
Right off the bat I had issues with some of the gameplay mechanics. First up, as you collect items and have them in your inventory, they show up in a bar at the top of the screen that can be shown at anytime by pressing a button. Oddly you can’t select any of the items or even look at them again to see what they are. You have to remember what the cartoon-like image is. Perhaps at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter much, because the game automatically chooses the items necessary to solve the puzzles (as long as you have them in your inventory), but I thought this streamlined process made most of the puzzles too easy and sort of pointless. It’s just odd that I can’t look at the items after I’m carrying them.
Moving Hans about the game is dreadfully slow. You use the left analog stick to walk around, although you can hold down the right trigger to walk at a slightly faster rate. I found myself holding this button down nearly the entire game. The right analog stick moves the cursor around and you can press a button to highlight the hotspots in the scenery, which will give you an indicator of what items can be looked at or interacted with. It’s a simple control scheme, but I found navigating some of the environments was clunky. Often I’d get stuck on an object and there’s a particular spot in the game where you have to navigate down a winding staircase in the dark that almost made me throw my Pro Controller in aggravation.
Perhaps the biggest problem of all with the game is that the story just isn’t that entertaining. The characters are weird for the sake of being weird, but none of them are written in a charming manner and the little humor that is present is very, very dry. The plot does have a few twists here and there, but the dialog is as dry as it can be and I forced myself to click through all of the dialog trees with little to no interest in what the characters were saying. It’s unfortunate because there are some truly strange people you’ll encounter and I think if they were written even slightly better the game would have appealed to a larger audience.
Don’t go into the game expecting a huge sprawling number of screens to explore. It’s understandable that the developers could only make so many sets and wanted to keep the scope reasonable, but I was surprised at just how much I had to backtrack and go back to areas I had already visited. I rarely get annoyed with backtracking in games, but here it just became tedious. Part of the reason is that there’s a loading screen between each screen and sometimes the place you think you may need to go is several screens away. It’s not until very late in the game that you get access to a map that allows you to warp to specific areas, but it’s too little too late by that point. Like everything else in the game, expect to poke around slowly as you go.
The initial thing that grabbed my attention was this idea that the graphics were created with miniature models. I watched some of the videos that showed off the sets and this was a really cool idea. I was a bit surprised that the final product didn’t really convey this as well as I though it would. I’m not sure if it’s the lower resolution of the Switch or if too many production effects were added, but I’m not sure the general audience would even know this game used sets instead of rendered graphics. The character models are quirky looking, but they don’t really impress either. Perhaps the animation could have been more stop-motion or maybe the characters made out of clay or something to make the images really pop? The final product just doesn’t shine like the way I thought it would.
Add all of this up and you get a slightly above average adventure game on the Switch. Some might like aspects of it more than I did, but I just wasn’t impressed with the dialog, gameplay mechanics, and the story really didn’t grab me. I’ve seen this plot before in movies and on TV and done better (Fringe says hello). Still, you could do worse than this and if you’re a huge fan of this genre it’s probably still worth a playthrough, which should take most fans about 5 to 7 hours to complete.
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 6/106/10
- Gameplay - 4/104/10
- Lasting Appeal - 5/105/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
I had high hopes for Trüberbrook. With its unique graphics, surreal setting, and sci-fi point-and-click adventure I figured it would be right up my alley. Unfortunately clunky and slow controls combined with so-so puzzles and uninteresting dialog made for a slightly above average affair.