The Little Acre review: Two worlds, one lovely cartoon adventure on Xbox One
The Little Acre is a point-and-click adventure from Dublin-based indie developer Pewter Games and Curve Digital for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam. Players will take on dual roles as a father and daughter who accidentally journey to another world. With full voice acting and lots of cartoonish charm, it's a short but sweet tale that adventure fans will love.
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Through the portal we go
During the game's animated introduction, we witness snippets of a cartoonish man and woman during their interactions in a bizarre landscape. Suddenly, they become afraid of some unseen entity. The woman escapes through a portal, emerging in our world just as it closes. Her companion remains behind. Initially confusing, these events will become clear over the course of the story.
As the actual game begins, a young man named Aidan wakes up in the house he shares with his daughter Lily, his father, and their dog. Aidan is unemployed and looking for work in 1950s Ireland. His unemployment status and the state of the country don't really come into play during the narrative, but they provide a hint of flavor to what seems like quite a personal story from the developers.
Throughout the game, players will control both Aidan and Lily (in parallel scenes) in two distinct realms: their idyllic country home, The Little Acre, and the colorful world of Clonfira, accessed via a mysterious machine. There, they will encounter some adorable and/or scary creatures, mysterious technology, the ruins of an ancient civilization, and more.
Artistically, The Little Acre's creators cite the animated films of Don Bluth and Studio Ghibli as inspirations. The game does have a beautiful aesthetic overall, with hand-drawn 2D backgrounds and characters. The characters mostly look quite expressive and charming, although (like most indie adventure games) the animations could use more keyframes. That said, the Ireland-version of Aidan looks awfully derpy while standing and walking. Those sprites could use serious refinement.
On the plus side, the game is fully voiced. Irish voices lend the game a sense of place, not to mention variety. Aidan and Lily's actors deliver strong performances, with side character Nina turning out fairly well too. The villain's voice actor (Sean Carey), however, is just awful. His slow and phony delivery is difficult to tolerate, severely limiting the impact of the character.
Aidan's first task is to dress himself with clothes scattered all about the room, all without leaving his bed. Should he get up undressed, Lily might awaken (apparently in an unpleasant state). This silly scenario establishes the game's mostly whimsical tone while teaching some basic puzzle mechanics.
The Little Acre is a traditional point-and-click adventure in the vein of classic games like Day of the Tentacle, the original King's Quest series, and Grim Fandango. Player interaction consists of exploring the hand-drawn environments, searching for usable items and points of interaction, and solving puzzles. You primarily accomplish these tasks by moving a pointer around the screen and clicking on things.
The pointer movement is a bit slow on Xbox One, which makes a handful of time-sensitive puzzles more challenging than intended (especially the one involving swapping an orb between two spots on a machine before a door powers down). Still, the game is never really hard, and you can't die, so the cursor doesn't throw too big a wrench in the works.
As the cursor moves around, Aidan or Lily will follow it on foot, making exploration simple enough. Interaction with objects encountered by our protagonists is quite easy too. Whenever there's more than one object in the immediate vicinity, a different face button appears at each point of interaction. One button opens a door, the other examines a hanging pan, etc.
Collecting objects and using them to solve puzzles plays a big part as well. To get out of bed, Aidan must pull a stick from his sleeping dog's mouth, activate it from his inventory, as then use it to grab his pants from a nearby chair. Sometimes an object's purpose will be immediately clear, whereas you might carry other items such as a hat around for a while before finding a use for them.
In fact, games of this genre often involve trying to use things from your inventory on everything in the area whenever you get stuck. Some of the most memorable adventure games like Leisure Suit Larry mine plenty of laughs by delivering a variety of humorous responses to failed interactions. The Little Acre really doesn't have individualized responses to these interactions after the opening scene, which is a shame. All dialog is fully-voiced, so perhaps recording extra responses would've been cost prohibitive.
The soul of wit
The Little Acre is a short game. An initial playthrough with no guides should take 2-3 hours. I usually praise games for their brevity, as quick completions suit my busy lifestyle. Filler content and mechanics (such as crafting systems) can often bog down an otherwise solid game as well. Still, The Little Acre is the rare game that genuinely feels too short for its own good.
The number of scenes players visit, particularly places within the alternate world Clonfira, is surprisingly small. Early on, Lily goes through several steps to reach a "shoppe" that she pretends to run, only to leave it immediately. It feels like a scene was supposed to happen there that got cut.
The final third of the game is almost as rushed. We learn a certain character's fate and the villain's motivations in a quick-fire, exposition-heavy manner that lessens the impact of the reveals. The game really needed another 30-60 minutes of adventuring, and perhaps another Clonfira speaking character or two, to reach its full potential.
The Xbox One version of The Little Acre has 27 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Many are completion-based and will naturally come over the course of the game. Eight are missable, in that they must be performed at specific scenes during the story that can't be revisited. The missable nature of those Achievements means that you'll need to consult a guide, but otherwise, it's not a big deal.
The Little Acre is a short game, and most Achievement-craving players will play through a second time to get the speedrun Achievement for beating the game in less than an hour. You could even do them all in one playthrough (plus quickly starting a new game for the Achievement for using a hint) if you didn't care about spoiling the experience. I never go after speedrun Achievements, but The Little Acre is so short and pleasant that I couldn't resist.
The Little Acre is a delightful throwback to classic adventure games. The puzzle solutions never get too tough, unlike, say, Machinarium, so players shouldn't need a guide to reach the end. Adult players will love the narrative's core mystery, while children should enjoy the antics of Lily and her friends. The whole thing is both sweet and bittersweet, which you can't say for many games nowadays.
- Cartoon-like animation and story
- Intuitive puzzles
- Lovable characters with full voice acting
- The game's short length gives the story a rushed feeling.
- The villain is poorly voiced.
- More individualized responses to inventory interactions would be nice.
The game's skimpy length could be a problem for gamers who expect a full-sized adventure. But remember that The Little Acre retails for only $12.99 at launch. That's comparable to the price of a movie, and you'll get quite a similar experience here. Achievement hunters will especially want to give this one a look – you can easily get them all in less than four hours. Few other easy-Gamerscore titles will prove as delightful as The Little Acre.
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Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.
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Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!
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