Review for Milo and the Magpies
While cats are famously known for roaming the neighborhood and doing what they want, when they want, all the feline protagonist in Johan Scherft’s debut game Milo and the Magpies wants to do is get home. Unfortunately – or fortunately for us – there are some birds making a nuisance of themselves and forcing our adorable hero to take a less than direct route in this short but beautifully designed puzzler full of fun.
Milo and the Magpies follows the titular small grey cat as he attempts to cross several yards the hard way after being knocked off a roof by a magpie. The plot is simple and easy to follow, yet extraordinarily sweet with a twist at the end. It’s easy to sympathize with Milo just wanting to get home, though we also understand his dislike of those annoying feathered creatures who caused his predicament. He encounters a few people and other animals on his journey, each representing familiar snapshots of life, like three kids playing together or a pianist at practice behind a glass door. With your help, Milo will prove himself to be resilient and clever, not letting any setbacks stop him from progressing on his journey.
You will need to solve several puzzles whilst progressing past the neighbors. Each new backyard or area has its own obstacles to overcome, from crossing a river to avoiding a barking dog, so that Milo can move on. Rather than have players control only Milo and collecting inventory along the way, the game takes “point and click” very literally. Clicking on a person or object, including Milo, prompts them to perform their respective actions; it’s putting them in the correct order that’s the tricky part. For example, in the first backyard, clicking on one boy will cause him to bounce higher on the trampoline while clicking on another causes him to use his remote control helicopter toy. There are a few locks that need to be opened, whose combination digits are scattered throughout the environment, but the safe puzzle in the eighth of nine chapters is the only one involving rather obtuse logic to solve.
Being a cat of the non-anthropomorphic kind, there isn’t much dialogue besides a few word bubbles that pop up with short thoughts from Milo or the others he encounters. The rare voiced lines are performed adequately but actually sound out of place, as only a few of the humans have lines while the majority of them are silent. Instead, most characters convey their thoughts purely through their looks and actions, like the musician’s annoyed glares whenever you tap on the piano and throw off his playing, or the gardener’s irritated slamming of his greenhouse door.
The best part of the game is its hand-painted backgrounds. Each scene is given loving detail and looks absolutely fantastic, from the artist’s neglected and overgrown backyard and fish pond to the birdwatcher’s house with its tidy flowerbeds, weird gnome and perfectly paved stone path. The skill and care that have gone into crafting Milo’s small world is simply magnificent, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen better backgrounds in a video game. It’s a traditional art style, with rich texturing and multilayered colors reminiscent of Paul Cézanne’s post-impressionist landscape paintings but with more detail as needed, or as if Monet’s garden paintings had been pulled into a sharper focus.
Characters and certain elements appearing in these beautiful settings are depicted in a crude but cute style. These feature fewer details and not much shading, instead focusing on conveying emotions and actions as simply as possible. There are also a few more photorealistic objects, such as the goldfish in the pond Milo encounters. While the contrasting art styles are certainly noticeable, they tend to work nicely with the simple animation style. The people and moving objects with less detail stand out nicely against the lush backgrounds, and the oddity of more realistic items makes it obvious that they are supposed to be used in puzzles.
The game is light on musical accompaniment, usually having only an acoustic orchestral track playing, like the pianist practicing his piece or a simple bass melody to score Milo’s adventures. The songs are there for ambiance, and are slow and calming, as befits such a leisurely gameplay experience. Much more noticeable are the effects, from Milo’s hisses to duck quacks to trampoline springs, each sound adding its own touch of life to the experience and making it feel that much more real and immersive.
Clocking in at just over an hour of playtime and ending with an unrealistic but surprisingly poignant finale, this game is a very short but sweet adventure that emphasizes art and feeling, with gorgeous hand-painted backgrounds and fun sound effects. The puzzles aren’t too difficult, but they fit with the easygoing nature of the game and make it an entertaining journey for all. If you have a limited amount of time for gaming and want something fairly casual and light between more substantial fare, particularly if you have a fondness for cats, Milo and the Magpies will scratch just the right itch.