No enemies, no environmental hazards, and no fighting. These aren’t the typical elements missing in a platform game, so it could sound like a very simple, even boring, game. But, surprisingly, it works. Canadian based developer Breakfall have been hard at work with a dream game that is rooted in their childhood days. The problem with this idea is that not all gamers have experienced wintertime, so the game has the burden of immersing you into an idea that the team from Breakfall hold dear. Have they succeeded in creating something special?
Such a simple game has a simple premise as well, so don’t expect in-depth character development; though, there are one or two key moments. The game puts you in control of the main character, Marvin—a child so wrapped in winter gear that you wonder how he’s able to move. Marvin’s mitten is stolen by some unidentifiable thing and he quickly goes after it. The next couple of dedicated screens are set up to teach you the simple tools that the gameplay are built upon. The platform mechanics are simple and the good old formula of “travel to the right until the next screen” never seems to lose its fun.
As you progress you’ll also come across animals that Marvin can sketch into his notebook, which act as one of the game’s collectibles. (The kid isn’t too bad at the drawings either. Maybe he should forget the mitten and continue practicing, though it wouldn’t be as interesting of a game.) But you can’t just breeze through a level, because getting too close to the animals causes them to run off. Fortunately, when starting a new day, they’ll be back in the exact same places (almost like they’re clocking into their job), being cute and waiting for you to find them.
Eventually, I reached what is one of the most important places in the game: an elf camp. These aren’t territory protecting elf savages that’ll try to kill Marvin, but instead magic bestowing ones (this kid is lucky). The elves you meet are also missing their mittens and Marvin vows to retrieve them. With the premise revealed, the snow elves bestow on Marvin’s remaining mitten the ability to temporarily float. Basically, Marvin gets a double jump, which can be upgraded if he collects more snowflakes that now appear in all areas of the game.
After adding the last bits of gameplay mechanics I jumped right into exploring—then Mom came a-calling. Quite literally, Marvin’s Mom calls and all control is disabled momentarily. Then you get slapped in the face with a timer; you can’t stay outside all day. What do you expect if you’re a child? I wonder which of the members of Breakfall had the childhood experience of such a strict curfew? Probably the same one who was bundled up as much as Marvin. (Sorry dude/dudette.)
These calls back home symbolize a break time in between the days of adventure, and also a save point for the player. But these breaks frustrated me more than eased me in, and I actually found myself stopping completely because the game is set upon your collection and exploration. If you don’t find yourself wanting to continue, you’ll find the game hard to pick up really quickly. The presentation of the save point was a nice touch: Marvin is tucked away into his bed to the sound of his mother’s singing. The Breakfall team really poured themselves into the game, with little touches of home that could only have come from their childhood days and experiences. (Nicely done.)
Throughout my exploration of the snow covered land, one thing that became second nature were the controls. A platform game doesn’t need complex control and movement, but the level design of Marvin’s Mittens escalated the need for controls and physics to make you use your head more. Nothing was too painstakingly hard, but it still made sure you had your movement spot on from platform to platform.
Going into this game I had certain expectations, but surprisingly they were exceeded. The first thing I noticed is the beautiful rendering of the game. Plenty of effort has been put towards giving the game a hand-drawn and painted look. I give many kudos to the background designer, as so much work had to be put in to give the environment and atmosphere such a cohesive and consistent look.
One small detail that I think the developers tried to keep in players’ minds subliminally is the scale. You normally wouldn’t think too much on how big things are, but when put into the context of the main character’s size it makes sense. The ridiculously large terrain and large-scale railroad tracks and trees that you use to scale, explore and advance are meant to send a message. You are seeing this world through the eyes of a child. The natural tendency of a child to use their imagination is, I think, expressed in the design specifically because it never escapes your mind that you are such a small part of the world. It’s a small detail, but it’s all it takes to make the immersion that much more inviting.
This game is meant to be relaxing to play; simple actions and controls with exploration and collecting being the key, but the music is on another level. (Props to Mike Keogh.) Considering the game environment is based on the magical snow land of Canada, it already has the base to create a serene environment. Every screen is treated as a different level so it is given its own piece of sound to go with. The music is so proper it’s unreal; each stage’s music on entrance settled me lower in my seat, it was that relaxing. Though, when the pause menu is left on too long the music doesn’t loop and is just lost. (This could be contributed to the preview build I received.)
The animation in this 2D world is very well done, especially Marvin himself. His movement, gestures, and even sound for each and every action makes the character feel very alive. Particle effects are rendered very well, yet in some of the levels there was a severe lack of animation from certain machines. Hot air balloons look and feel like cutouts from paper rather than something with dimension and form. It could be argued that it was a preview build or that it’s part of the presentation but these details stuck out as if they were unfinished. You can’t put so much work into the backgrounds and characters and let the little details suffer. It takes the player out of the illusion that this is a window to another world.
This is a game for relaxing and casual play. I personally don’t gravitate to that kind of gameplay, but Marvin’s Mittens has been able to let me enjoy it. Developer Breakfall have taken the spin on a “experimental” game that takes away the convention of defeating an enemy, but with simple action and atmosphere have created something enjoyable. The fact that they were inspired by their childhood days shows their dedication in creating moments that you can believe happened in someone’s life. Though they do convey that feeling in moments of the game, it’s an ambitious project because the main idea of a winter wonderland isn’t something that can be related to by everyone. But Marvin’s Mittens itself isn’t short of a real game experience; it’s one that you shouldn’t pass up. The music is some of the greatest I’ve heard and the adventure is worth the time if you can stand the repetitiveness and linear gameplay.