Set more than four hundred years ago around the time of the plague and when William Shakespeare's plays were first being performed in London, Astrologaster is a game based around the life and times of one Simon Forman. Forman was, according to developer Nyamyam, a strange physician who lived in Lambeth and who served his clients with health advice determined by a mixture of basic medical knowledge and his reading of the stars.
Mechanically it's a very simple game, which makes it a great fit for playing on a touchscreen device. With a singular swipe across the screen, a page turns to reveal a new scene in a pop-up book, and we alternate between various characters talking and then trying to work out what ails your patients. Forman spends most of his time in his consulting chambers in Lambeth, chatting to those who seek treatment and then contemplating various astrological clues. Each new problem reveals a series of different zodiac signs and each one alludes to a different theme or idea, which Forman must then combine and compare as he decides the best course of action. In truth, these decisions are not much more complicated than multiple choice dialogue options, but there's a vagueness to their meaning that requires you use your imagination just a little.
The story is built around the fact Forman doesn't have a medical license and he needs one before it gets him in trouble. Luckily for him, medical school isn't a necessity and instead of getting a degree you can collect together enough letters of recommendation from your clients to get you a license, which is exactly what you're tasked with doing. The better and more accurate your work, the quicker you'll earn those recommendations, although it's set up in such a way that it all comes together in the end.
The experience is enthralling because of the characters you encounter and the stories they tell you during their consultations, and how elegantly they've all been woven together. Events take place over years, with Forman meeting a whole cast of characters from all walks of life. They're not all linked directly, but there's enough overlap between them as well as certain notable historical events that it's easy to become embroiled in the private lives of these strange Elizabethan folk.
Astrologaster is a strange game, especially when you boil it down and describe it in its simplest terms. However, despite being borderline surreal at times, it remains compelling pretty much throughout. This is in large part down to the quality of the presentation, which is excellent across the board. The voice acting is brilliant, for example, and a cast of capable actors brings a fantastic script to life with plenty of verve. We must admit to enjoying history almost as much as we like Shakespearean melodrama, so we're certainly the game's target audience, and we thought that it was both delightful and very funny.
The voice acting is complemented by elegantly simple visuals; we enjoyed the cardboard aesthetic and the whole thing is stylishly executed. What's more, each new scene (and there are lots, in truth, maybe a few too many) is prefaced by a little introduction that is delivered via choral singing. These little ditties are unashamedly silly and, for the most part, we enjoyed the wit and irony they brought to our overall understanding of the characters. That said, there were a few occasions where we wanted to skip them and we couldn't.
In fact, that's our main criticism: there are a few minor pacing issues that take the edge off the experience. There are sometimes multiple diagnoses to choose from so you could very easily play through a second time should you so wish, but then the unskippable interludes might start to irk after a while, and those little lulls will feel just a bit more tiring to push through. Don't get us wrong, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the game, but all things considered, we're not inclined to make a second pass despite wanting to see how a few of our choices might have played out if we'd done things differently.
Astrologaster plays out like a high-quality radio play that has been brought to life via an interactive pop-up book. The story of Simon Forman is as whacky as it is entertaining; there are highs, there are lows, and there are plenty of laughs to keep you entertained along the way. At times it might feel a little bit bloated, but otherwise, the stars have aligned to create a uniquely engaging and entertaining game that we wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who's even slightly intrigued by the strange but true premise.