Tardy review

Tardy review
Tardy review
The Good:
  • Intriguing sci-fi story and world building
  • Challenging but (mostly) fair puzzles
  • Direct inventory manipulation is really satisfying
  • Pastel pixel art and Blade Runner-esque music provide great atmosphere
The Bad:
  • Mandatory arcade sessions may be stumbling blocks for non-action gamers
  • Virtual keyboard-based puzzles are laborious
  • Limited checkpoint save system
  • Less-than-polished English localization (for now)
Our Verdict:

A challenging but fair science fiction adventure, Tardy’s unique look, direct inventory manipulation mechanics, and interesting story and characters easily overshadow a few interface and localization issues.

Tardy is that rare breed of adventure game that takes the fundamentals of the past and twists them just slightly askew to create something different while still being wholly recognizable. Where other games go for expansive environments, Tardy reins them in. Where others provide many icon-based inventory items, Tardy offers few but makes them more directly interactive. With challenging puzzles, a solid science fiction story, and a look and sound all its own, Tardy is not shy about making an impression, albeit one that’s a little rough around the edges at times.

The game begins in media res with a conversation between two off-screen characters, one of whom is the playable protagonist, the spacefaring vagabond Ramto. Ramto accidentally stumbles into a “crio” chamber aboard the starship Wall, which renders him unconscious, only to awaken two years later to find the ship traveling through space but now seemingly abandoned and having sustained some damage. As you begin to make your way through the vessel, restoring offline systems and the like, you discover that its designer had a predilection for injecting unusual puzzles into odd places, such as the elevator controls and any computer system you may come across.

In short order you encounter Ann, the only other person on the ship, although she is cut off from you and can only speak through the comm equipment and the occasional holographic projection. Unlike Ramto, who is aboard as a stowaway, it turns out Ann is actually part of the crew. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that something bad happened here, with various crew members having perished in grisly fashion. You’ll also learn that the ship was headed for the Imperial planet Vironia to help fortify it against the robotic armies of the Confederacy. Ann in particular is eager to get there to help her trapped sister. Ramto, meanwhile, doesn’t consider himself a hero and doesn’t want to go anywhere near the fighting. Either way, the ship is in a bad state and the pair must limp to a nearby planet to scavenge parts before any long-term plans can be made.

Tardy has no shortage of standard sci-fi themes, including a galaxy divided between two major factions (the Empire and the Confederacy), faster-than-light star travel, colonization of planets, robot armies, and even experiments in time manipulation. Yet some of these ideas have been subtly shifted from the usual clichés in welcome ways, with Ramto and Ann’s differing points of view on various topics making such concepts even more interesting. To reveal too much would spoil surprises best experienced for yourself, but along with what you discover through the two protagonists’ conversations, the sometimes borderline paranoia expressed through various journals and news stories scattered around makes for quite a compelling experience.

Even with all its world building, Tardy’s story focuses most on the human element. Ramto and Ann reveal glimpses into themselves as well as their circumstances through their often sarcastic banter. As you proceed, they do begin to bond and come to identify with one another, although it would be a stretch to say they ever really become BFFs. Their frequent bickering about obstacles can wear a little thin at times, but they take great delight in continually pointing out the absurdity of the Wall designer’s penchant for puzzles, and there are even some heartfelt moments that avoid getting too sentimental.

The game looks, sounds, and plays much like a retro 2D point-and-click adventure, but again with some interesting differences. Visually, Tardy has a very unique style with all locations, whether ship- or planet-based, being drawn in various pastel shades, primarily blues and pinks. It’s a very appealing pixel art look that makes Ramto’s solitary journey – save for Ann’s voice – feel all the more melancholy. Most areas you visit also incorporate a number of background animations. Whether it’s the sight of a nebula slowly drifting past the windows of the Wall, or an abandoned dog following you around on a planet’s surface, these ambient touches all add to the reality of the game world.

The sad, decayed feel of this universe is helped along by Tardy’s synth score. Very reminiscent of the first Blade Runner movie, each scene in the game has its own low-key tune running in the background. Only in a couple of places did I find some of the track loops beginning to grate, although that may have been due to getting stuck for a time in those areas and becoming more conscious of the music as I tried to come up with new ideas to solve puzzles. All in all, the soundtrack is quite fitting for the atmosphere being projected.

On the control front, you guide Ramto about in normal fashion, clicking where you want him to walk. However, instead of having a wide array of hotspots hidden in each environment, here you will find just a small number – usually two or three to start with – of white exclamation points bobbing in the air. Clicking on these will cause Ramto to interact with their related areas in a context-specific fashion. For example, the one for a hologram of Ann will allow Ramto talk to her, while the one for a computer display will cause a close-up of that computer to appear over the main scene. As you interact with the initial hotspots, more will sometimes become unlocked.

Unlike most adventures that give you multiple scenes to travel through at a time, in Tardy you will only ever be able to access one scene at any given moment. Once you’ve completed all the tasks in the immediate vicinity, you’ll move onto another scenario with its own set of hotspots. It’s highly streamlined, but there’s something quite satisfying in knowing that the pieces you need to solve the challenges before you are all currently available. This extends to inventory items too, as once you leave one location any objects you’ve accumulated to that point are taken away.

The inventory items themselves function differently from other adventures. When you click on hotspots, you are typically taken to a close-up view of some piece of machinery or a display that you need to interact with. These frequently have things like journals or portable pieces of equipment that you can take. Instead of becoming small representational icons in some inventory bar, however, here the life-sized items are displayed as long as you’re in that environment. You will need to click and drag these new possessions into the generous black margins around the current view screen in order to organize them in such a way that you can continue adventuring. In some cases you need to drag items to specific areas of the scene, such as a flashlight needed to reveal important information hidden in a darkened shaft, or when you overlay a piece of paper with holes cut in it onto a page of numbers to reveal a secret code.

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review

Adventure games by One Wing Cicada

Tardy  2018

Ramto isn’t the smartest guy in the universe.