My favorite video games of all time revolve around the player piloting a heroic adventurer, usually on some worldwide quest to save the planet from impending doom. Within this genre comes a lot of deviation in how the story is told, whether you are gathering pieces of Triforce or assassinating key historical figures, but inevitably, with a healthy dose of perseverance, the hero emerges victorious and the world gets to plod on. It’s a good thing these games are my favorite, since the theme is so abundantly common, but a thought occurred to me recently that, perhaps, these are only my favorite games because these are the only games available. How often does the player get to control the villain in the story? Even in open-ended plots and branching story lines, developers often take great care to make each faction appealing and, in some ways, the “good guys” from their own perspective. Aside from Fable and the far-too-infrequent Wario Land series, the opportunities to offend are unfortunately scarce.
Title: Untitled Goose Game
Developer: House House
Available On: PC, Nintendo Switch
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: September 20, 2019
Game Purchased for the Purpose of This Review
I am not a sociopath. I don’t want to kill innocent bystanders, mercilessly rule kingdoms, or become a tyrannous despot. Yet, sometimes, in moments of weakness, I find myself laughing inwardly as I purposefully thwart the actions of annoying NPCs, or spitefully withhold items, information, or quest objectives from them, despite their digital brains being none the wiser. Cue the HONK! House House delivers a new gem to Windows, MacOS, and Nintendo Switch that allows each of us to become the most devilish, satanic abomination this world has ever known – a goose. Untitled Goose Game is inventive, smart, beautiful, fun, and exactly the game I didn’t know that I wanted.
Untitled Goose Game features a diagonally-angled top down exploration of a small village as you control (you guessed it) a goose. Controls are simple to learn and take mere seconds to master – move, duck (your neck, not the animal), bite, spread your wings, sprint, and (most importantly) HONK. Honking is used almost entirely to annoy townspeople, though I used it more to roleplay as the sadistic goose holding nonsensical, sometimes evangelical, conversations with my victims. Spreading your wings serves nearly no purpose at all – in fact, I can think of only a single instance that it provided any sort of gameplay function. Again, strutting my stuff at sufferers became its regular use. Gameplay mechanics and quests ultimately revolve around sneakily stealing items and causing otherwise peaceful humans to commit unwanted acts of stupidity. There is little variation between the actions required of the goose.
And yet, the game remains fun and engaging throughout its campaign. Stealing underwear from a clothesline, “shopping” with items thieved from an outdoor market, or hiding a farmer’s hat all require the same set of controller inputs, but the reactions from the townspeople and the tactics of the goose to attain his diabolical plans are unique to the situation and almost universally hilarious. There is no deep story, dialogue, facial expressions, or complex characterization to speak of in Untitled Goose Game, but emotions are accurately conveyed through noises, body language, emotive speech bubbles, and, of course, HONKs. Few games are able to relay such humor and classically slapstick laughs with such simple, minimalistic presentation.
Presentation is a strong suit in Untitled Goose Game, and the minimalistic graphics complement the simple gameplay loop nicely. The game is bright and uses simple textures in a 3D environment cleverly, creating a neighborhood that feels authentic and lived in. Most items in the environment can be interacted with, whether it causes a simple moving animation of the item for no other purpose than your pleasure, or creating an ingenious trap for one of the human fools you prey upon. Some items cause the humans to act in unpredictable ways, which creates constant excitement that perhaps you are the first goose to enact such a perfectly irritating scheme.
As you create havoc for the unsuspecting townsfolk, you’ll be relieved by the relaxation that washes over you while playing. You are quite literally the only unstressed character in the whole game. You have as much time as you want to explore this expertly crafted neighborhood and terrorize its inhabitants to your heart’s content. Unsuccessfully performing a task on your to-do list usually results in a simple reset of the items, and the dumb humans never wisen up enough to entirely remove you from the premises. Don’t feel like goosing towards any specific objective? No worries; it is always satisfying to sneak up behind a person and shock them with a well-placed HONK.
The music in Untitled Goose Game is some of my favorite in recent memory. The soundtrack is dynamic, and how you and the humans react to certain events will cause the music to pick up or calm down appropriately. The musical accompaniment features contemporary solo piano with small hints of jazz sprinkled throughout, and create an air of relaxation or light-hearted tension as necessary. Even the soundtrack evokes an air of whimsy that can only be embodied by a nefarious, though ultimately harmless, goose.
Untitled Goose Game sells for a price tag of $19.99, and while it’s cheap enough for most people to afford, feels slightly overpriced for the total time the initial campaign runs. Most players will finish their first playthrough in under four hours. Completionists have extra tasks to perform after the credits, but the game still doesn’t feel quite full enough, nor varying in its tasks enough, to justify a full twenty dollars. Nevertheless, since finishing the “story” line, I’ve HONKed my enjoyment to multiple friends across various platforms and can’t help but recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, quick distraction.
I’m always delighted by segments of video games that allow me to control an animal, and even more glad to relax and laugh while playing games in my spare time. Rarely do these two all-too-rare genres cross in gaming, but when they do, and with enough clever direction and a pleasing original soundtrack, you get the beautiful gem that is Untitled Goose Game. Purchasing this game on sale would make for a perfect diversion to relax and waste a few hours of clean, simple fun, enjoyable by gamers (and non-gamers) of nearly any age.
Final Score: HONK!