With one spoiler-ific exception near the end of the game, puzzles are item-based and include such tasks as retrieving beer for another character from a fridge in your apartment, and making a long pole to grab an object through a hole in the floor. Most are not difficult, but some solutions are vague. A couple of times I was stumped while figuring out what to do next. Luckily, the tried-and-true “click everything” approach, coupled with some thought about what I was supposed to achieve, pushed me through these mild tough spots. There is no hint system or hotspot highlighter, but even the latter is of no particular concern since it’s clear most of the time what you can and can’t click on, while at plot-appropriate moments a few characters can be asked what it is you are supposed to be doing if you need a reminder. Those more interested in the story and characters will likely find this relaxed approach a welcome change of pace from the obtuse brain-teasers that traditional point-and-click adventures are known for. I certainly appreciated the ability to focus on the plot development, even if I would have enjoyed a steeper challenge.
From the moment you boot up the game, the hand-drawn graphics of Maggie’s Apartment impress, even if the art style itself won’t be to everyone’s taste. Anatola Howard’s illustration style is highly distinctive, with a flowing, distorted look that is almost surreal in its effect. This is especially evident with regards to the characters. One notable example is the policeman Rascal (pronounced rass-CAWL), whose bulging gut and tentacle-shaped arms and legs make him resemble an octopus more than an officer of the law. The bright pastels that make characters such as the lanky Randy Rosebud and various items around the apartment visually “pop” are balanced out by earth tones, ensuring that neither boring nor garish coloring dominates.
Animations have also been created by hand, and the attention to detail is notable. Actions are accompanied by their own animations, so that clicking on a drawer to look inside it has a vastly different result than clamoring up onto a couch to peer out a window, which is altogether unique from, say, Maggie pressing her face against a wall to talk to the computer whiz-kid next door. It’s a subtle technique, sure, but it really sets Maggie’s Apartment apart (no pun intended) from other titles where stock animations are the order of the day.
The music consists of only a few tracks, but the minimalist vocal style, combined with its default low volume, keeps it from becoming repetitive or annoying. Rather, it provides atmosphere without intruding on the gameplay. Much like the graphics, it may not appeal to everyone, but it is absolutely distinctive, reminding me a little bit of the singer-songwriter tunes “indie” radio stations often play. Sound effects are as quirky as the rest of the game, featuring such details as cartoonish honking when Maggie lands on the floor after climbing through a window, sizzling noises from a barbeque grill, and the ever-present radio playing various songs, punctuated with the occasional cut-in from the station DJ.
Intriguingly, the radio also doubles as a part of the interface. There is no “escape menu,” but clicking on the radio provides a way to adjust the audio levels, save and load the game, and go back to the title menu, from which you can exit cleanly. It’s a little disorienting at first, since it goes against the standard routine so ingrained in gamer reflexes, but once you understand what to do it’s no problem.
Saving can be done any time the radio-menu is available, which means that if you have made an excursion outside the confines of the apartment, you’ll have to re-enter it in order to record your progress. However, there are only a handful of times that Maggie leaves her apartment so this is, if anything, a minor annoyance. And that’s assuming you need to save at all. The game is perhaps deceptively described as a “one-room” adventure, since eventually Maggie ventures forth from that room, but the game is still a compact experience. I was able to finish in a single long session, but with playtime clocking in around 3-4 hours, that’s a little bit on the long side to do so comfortably.
I was initially intrigued by Maggie’s Apartment mainly on the basis of the surrealistic art style and a story that seemed like it might be out of the ordinary, and it did not disappoint. Though perhaps an acquired taste for some, I found the graphics impressive, especially since they were both hand-drawn and animated by a solo developer. Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the game is that the lighthearted environment gives way to an exploration of dark themes rarely explored in videogames. It’s not especially oppressive, but it can definitely be a bit weird. Complementing the story, the sometimes comical dialogue helps make up for the lack of challenging puzzles. Ultimately, this is a bizarre little game that hides a thought-provoking narrative beneath its cotton-candy exterior and strange characters. If you’re in the mood for a relatively quick jaunt through a strange-but-fun game, Maggie’s Apartment should be just the ticket.