Do you ever want to just sit down, take a load off and just enjoy some simple to digest content? Well, let's face it, a lot of games often don't quite scratch that itch, it's hard to relax in the middle of a Domination game in Call of Duty. Cowleyfornia Studios, a small new developer has a great solution for this, in the upcoming narrative-based, literary mystery tale Sarawak.
You might not be familiar with the name Cowleyfornia Studios or its game Sarawak, and that's because this is the developer's first title to date. It focuses on the story of a young woman named Mia, who is sent on an enthralling journey across England's Oxford and Borneo's Sarawak region, after discovering that her mother is set to take the fall for a mysterious professor's death. The storyline itself is packed with mystery and various puzzles, each tied to its text-based design that delivers its narrative like an interactive novel.
The interactive literary mystery design provides a medium to convey Sarawak's story in a more engaging, yet simple fashion. As the player, you in the shoes of Mia will have to make a series of decisions regarding how you approach conversations or puzzling encounters, and to make the game that much more exciting it features various illustrations that can be interacted with to add a little more depth.
On the topic of the narrative, Sarawak tells a story filled with intrigue and mystery, and while a lot is tailored around completing this unusual quest you are sent on to determine whether or not mother is guilty - there are plenty of occasions to engage in side tales with interesting less vital characters. Building on this, the extra lore that comes weaved throughout the main storyline always gives you a reason to explore a less direct option. That could mean simply diving further into what is probably the wrong path to take, just to see how it unravels and impacts Mia's journey.
The puzzles on the other hand are a common part of what Sarawak offers, but they are much more infrequent compared to how prevalent the narrative is. Some puzzles can be rather challenging, often confounding you, whereas others will require very little effort and you'll blitz through them. The one common factor they all present is a unique design that requires you to approach them in a way you wouldn't have previously, and considering Sarawak excels in its simplicity, the variation in difficulties of the puzzles never truly becomes a problem.
One of the biggest strengths of Sarawak is its visuals and its art design. This title is so simple, yet full of charm and that's conveyed largely through its gorgeous art direction. Similar to the likes of Over The Alps, Sarawak uses visuals to push its narrative further, using art mainly for the interactive portions of the storyline. The imagery breaks up the lengthy written narrative, and by working in tandem with one another, they bounce off each other and act as necessary breaks between each type of content. The balance Cowleyfornia Studios has managed to achieve is quite impressive indeed.
Even being thrust into the story from minute one, with very little back story as to who Mia is, Sarawak puts forward an engaging tale that will keep you enticed for its duration. This isn't a game designed to make you hungry to play day after day, it's a short and interesting story that can be enjoyed in its entirety in one sitting - and the best part is that you will want to consume it in this way.
Sarawak is not a long game at all, in fact you might be able to stretch two hours of playtime out of it if you play intentionally slowly, and on top of that, once you've completed it once, there's not a whole lot more it brings to the table. But, considering this is really just a small indie project, it is enjoyable to play from its first minute until its last, and that's credited to its intriguing yet simple puzzles, narrative and art design.
If you're expecting a Telltale Games level of adventure and production from this indie developed by a brand-new studio, you won't find that here. But what you will find is a charming, pleasant and relaxing game that takes you to some locations you've probably never even given a second thought to. And for that reason, I think Sarawak is very much worth a couple of hours of your time.
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