When The Past Was Around is a tough game to review as, from a strictly gameplay perspective, it’s pretty underwhelming.
It sees you exploring small areas and solving fairly rudimentary point and click puzzles. But it’s not the problem solving that’s the big draw here.
It’s the relationship trauma solving. And that will either leave you cold, or feeling all warm inside.
The plot sees you discovering what happened to a woman’s owl-faced partner (well he actually has an owl head, not a face…it’s complicated), with her struggle to accept and overcome his passing.
Similar to Florence, it employs hand-drawn art and tells a lot of the story via static comic book panels. It’s hugely charming to look at, but we’re not sure the tale it tells is quite enough to accept its limited mechanics.
Florence allowed you to explore a relationship almost completely through the gameplay for instance, and was a short but deeply rewarding title as a result.
When The Past Was Around in comparison presents you with a few too many pretty standard point and click puzzles – many being convoluted fetch quests – then tells you the story after you’ve completed them via cutscenes.
Only on certain occasions does the gameplay feel like it matches up to the protagonist’s emotions, such as when you have turn over an entire room in a panicked search for some pills. Moments like this work so well we were sad not to see more of them.
It subsequently never feels like a completely fulfilling experience, and although the ending is sweet it didn’t leave us emotionally devastated. Which we think was the intention.
That’s not to say the game is a waste of time, as it’s beautifully presented and it’s nice to see a title trying to tell an emotionally resonant story.
It also doesn’t overstay its welcome, with a short runtime – and a low price-tag to match. If you’re into narrative driven experiences you could do a lot worse than check this out.
We feel The Past Was Around is ultimately a bit of a missed opportunity though, especially as it’s so beautiful to look at. If only as much attention has been put into matching the visuals with the gameplay.