If brevity is the soul of wit, you would expect The Little Acre to be a masterclass in mirth. Clocking in at just under an hour of gameplay, it’s one of the shortest point-and-click adventures we’ve ever played and while there are a few smiles along the way, there is simply not enough content here to justify a full-price purchase.
It’s a real shame, since Pewter Games has clearly poured their soul into the canvas. The animations are wonderful - actually animated in a style that owes a massive debt to Don Bluth - and this is where the majority of the humour can be found. Characters feel alive in a cartoonish manner: stretching beyond physical capability, grimacing, gurning, smiling and generally emoting in a way that makes the cast of Telltale’s adventures look flat-out static. Everything is hand-drawn, and whilst it occasionally feels slightly rough around the edges with some of the animations feeling a little too pencil-sketched, it all adds to the charm.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around a 1950s Irish family. The protagonist Aidan and his daughter Lily wake up one morning to find Arthur, Aidan’s father, missing. Arthur is an inventor who has created a machine that transports people to the bizarre world of Clonfira, and disappeared. Aidan decides to follow him and discover what happened...and when Lily finds out her father has gone, she follows suit. During the subsequent events there is plenty of back and forth between the two worlds, and Arthur’s assistant Nina also steps in to help Aidan. Of course, no cartoon is complete without a loveable pooch, and Dougal the Irish wolfhound fills this role admirably, protecting Lily at every turn. Even the creatures in Clonfira are imaginative, and Lily’s brief relationship with Bugsy is simply adorable.
Despite the marvellous visuals, The Little Acre’s biggest issue is that its compact form severely limits any sort of meaningful storytelling. The plot whisks you from area to area, barely pausing to let you catch your breath. Puzzles are limited to individual areas, so everything you’ll need to progress will be located within the two to three screens accessible to you; very little backtracking is needed. Some of the slightly trickier challenges include navigating a swamp of lily pads via touch-activated lamps, working out how to get Arthur’s machine up and running, and helping a character fix a Clonfiran device. A scout around the vicinity will help with all of these problems, and consequently anyone with a modicum of experience in the point-and-click genre will breeze through the game. A hint system is also available, but we didn’t utilise it for the entirety of our playthrough. There are several dark themes which are touched upon that feel at odds with the overall setting but, like much of the rest of the game, are given short shrift. A lack of profanity, appealing characters, and a brisk playing time may go down well with the under twelves and their families - indeed, it felt at times that this would make the ideal introduction to the genre for younger players.
Older gamers may find far less that endears, from a narrative aspect at least. No mention is ever made about what Clonfira is, or why Arthur was trying to get there. Aidan leaving his young daughter behind to fend for herself whilst he risks orphaning her as he goes gallivanting off to another dimension isn’t even considered. The game’s antagonist - who makes himself known only towards the very end of the game - is a bizarre addition, whose motives are dubious even at the end. So much is glossed over or outright ignored that we can only assume that either we aren’t the target age demographic, or Pewter Games simply ran out of time and money to flesh out the game. The small Dublin studio brought Charles Cecil on board as an executive producer, and the pacing and general logical consistency of the puzzles may well be due in part to him, but we would have expected a little more depth from the man behind the wonderful Broken Sword.
Similarly, whilst the animations are lovely, the voiceovers range from below average to acceptable at best. Irish talent is made use of, but it lacks the spark of a more seasoned cast. The Clonfiran Merr is incredibly annoying in particular, stretching out his speech in a similar manner to Dory speaking “whale”, but with far less humour. The accompanying soundtrack is much better, ranging from organ to piano via a touch of Celtic fiddle. It’s unobtrusive, jaunty and downright enjoyable at times. There are some other nice touches too, such as the rollover text for hotspots changing to “child” versions when you’re running through a previous area with Lily rather than Aidan. Anything involving animals is sure to garner a grin if not an outright belly laugh and the entire package feels very polished; we didn’t run into any glitches at all during play.
It’s difficult to know what to make of The Little Acre. It feels like it’s the first chapter of a much larger tale, except that all of the plotlines are abruptly tied up at the finale in a rather unsatisfying way. Despite having a minimal cast of characters, it would have been much easier to recommend if there had been a weightier story for them to navigate. The experience is simply over far too soon and far too tersely for it to make any significant impact - at least amongst the adult gaming population. That said, credit should be given to Pewter Games for creating a truly gorgeous showcase of their talent. The Little Acre has shown that they have the technical nous to create wonderful environments - now they need a far bigger project to ensure that the gaming community as a whole can appreciate their work.