Picture the scene: it’s the middle of the night, and you’ve just woken up to discover that your favourite teddy bear has been stolen by an unfeasibly large, scary spider hiding in your wardrobe. You’re four and you’re scared, but you’re trying to be brave. In Finding Teddy, the search for the missing plush companion leads you into a dreamlike, magical world, populated by the hopes and fears of a small child learning to deal with the world around her. It's never quite clear whether it is all a dream, or some kind of Narnia-like magic, but there's a wardrobe involved, not to mention talking animals. And like Narnia, there are serious lessons to be learned. Despite an abundance of charm and a tiny protagonist, though, this isn’t really a game for children, unless they’re very patient children who don’t mind dying a lot. And love sound puzzles. In fact, it’s simple: if you love sound puzzles, you’ll probably be beguiled by this game. If not, you’re in for a frustrating time.
As far as actual plot goes, that's pretty much it. Your teddy's been stolen, and you have to keep exploring until you find the arachnid that took it. That's not to say you don't learn anything as you go, however: the lands you travel through and the creatures you meet offer quite a poignant insight into the mind of a small girl. There are singing frogs and alligators, moles and snakes, and at one point you'll find yourself singing sadly by a graveside. To start with everything's pleasant, even idyllic, but the journey gets ever darker until you reach the spider's lair. You'll also die. Frequently, suddenly and violently, but don't worry: you'll spring back to life just as quickly.
Have you ever noticed how few of the people you meet in adventure games are happy? They all seem to have just the sorts of problems that take a passing adventurer to solve. Well, the same is true here, but it feels more meaningful than usual. You meet all manner of unhappy creatures and (like the well-brought-up girl you are) you make it your mission to cheer them up. But this isn't one of those fairy tales where they all live happily ever after; it feels more like a metaphor for working through your own issues and slaying your own demons. Or maybe I'm just overthinking things again. In any case, you won't be lonely: along the way you'll run across a cat and a bug in a top hat to keep you company in your quest, not to mention helping out from time to time.
The key word that kept coming up when I thought about how to describe this game is 'minimalist'; everything about it is pared back and simple. In less adept hands, this could have made it seem dull or simplistic, but here it brings a feeling of Zen-like peace and calm that allows the atmosphere to shine through. Some of the sound puzzles threaten to undo all this good work, but we'll get to that later.
The graphics are charming, in a very stylised, retro kind of way. They’re deliberately low-res, and much of it is very angular and mechanical-looking despite the fact that there’s no technology more advanced than a gate or a postbox in sight. Vines look more like pipework, rocks like rectangular slabs and even the animals look more like robots. There’s also a surreal disparity in scale at times: early on you meet a bee the size of a small building and a worm-like creature that’s even bigger. You start out in a sunlit forest, but it’s not long before you’re tramping through a swamp and on to the dark recesses of the giant spider’s lair. A neat touch is that you (and your companions) are shown in greyscale against these colourful backdrops, helping to highlight just how sad you’re feeling. The scenes are very static, as aside from the creatures you meet and a few dancing dust motes, there's very little to bring them to life. Here, though, less feels like more and I didn't really miss the scudding clouds and tinkling waterfalls of other games; instead, the simplicity helps make the creatures' actions and emotions stand out.
There's a similarly minimalist approach to hotspots: aside from exits, there's rarely more than one and in many cases none at all, with much of the environment seemingly there to provide atmosphere and a sense of scale. Unfortunately, that means you'll spend much of your time wandering back and forth through it all, trying to remember where you saw a particular creature or object. You can run by clicking twice on an exit, but I'd have preferred a less spread-out design, or some kind of quick travel map.
The music and effects are also simple but effective. There's the whistle of wind, the pattering of raindrops and a gentle ambient background score that barely qualifies as music but helps to unobtrusively set the mood. With so much of the game focused on sound puzzles, though, more would definitely have been distracting. There is, at least on the surface, no dialogue or written messages of any kind, though depending on your point of view the game could be considered fully voiced, just in an entirely unconventional way.Continued on the next page...