When you're small, the world is a big place, and most of us growing up had some sort of security blanket that made us feel safe. Something you took with you everywhere, even when your parents tried to stop you. A stuffed toy, battered and covered with dirt from long afternoons at the playground. A scrap of baby blanket stuffed in a pocket. Other people looked at them and saw only junk, but to us they were talismans that gave us the courage to face our problems. Eventually, we grew up and they were lost or tattered beyond repair, or simply forgotten in an attic. But sometimes you just can't let go. Malaysian artist Daphne Lim, who is studying multimedia at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia, has crafted a story about chasing after what's important to you even if nobody else understands why, in the form of a point-and-click adventure called The Blue Beanie.
The unlikely hero of the story is a tiny, plump white woodland creature whose prized possession, a very dapper blue beanie, is stolen one day when he leaves it out to dry. Most of us would write it off as long gone, but our hero is not about to let it get away that easily. Despite his small stature, he's off to rescue his beloved beanie no matter what the odds, and what follows is one of the most charming games we've had the pleasure of playing in a long time.
For the most part, gameplay is straightforward pointing and clicking. Move your cursor around the area, and watch for it to turn into a hand to show you can interact with something. Clicking on it might make something amazing happen… or not. Often, you have to figure out the correct order to click on objects to proceed, which requires a bit of trial and error since most of us have little experience being tiny woodland sprites. Occasionally, you'll also use the mouse to steer your little hero safely around obstacles, or to clear a path for him. The game never tells you exactly what you should be doing — although it does nudge you gently in the right direction if you pay attention — so a bit of patience and a lot of experimentation is required.
Inspired by Samorost, The Blue Beanie is presented with animated characters against beautiful painted or photographed backgrounds. Add in the music (by Mark Holdaway of Kalimba Magic), which has a Peter and the Wolf way of mimicking the action onscreen, and the entire experience is a sensory treat. Seasoned point-and-click gamers may find the story a little brief, but it's an experience that will delight anyone with a sense of whimsy and adventure.
Analysis: For a game with such a tiny protagonist, The Blue Beanie manages to feel like an awfully big adventure, and the hero packs a lot of personality into his tiny frame. Daphne Lim has a real talent for creating sympathetic and expressive characters, working with body language as much as facial expressions to create someone you can really connect with.
While working without any real dialogue may be a plus for the aesthetics, however, it can be a hindrance when the puzzles come around. There's no real penalty for simply clicking blindly around the screen, but this rarely accomplishes anything either. Ultimately I found the best thing to do was watch the little hero for clues; he'll look at things you should be interacting with, or react in a way that hints at your next action when you prompt him. Each screen represents a single puzzle, but there's also a lot of other little visual touches for you to discover, so take your time and examine everything.
The Blue Beanie feels like it should be a children's book, but it's so well put together that it comes across as the sort of innocent pleasure even grown-ups can enjoy. For me, the game conjured up fond memories of Tove Jansson's Moomins, both in look and in feel, and by doing so the story connected with my childhood. I wasn't expecting such a genuinely heart-felt little adventure tonight, and I feel like I should thank Ms. Lim for it. It really did feel like a treat.
With a lot to offer for people who like the journey to be as rewarding as the end, The Blue Beanie is a simple, sweet, lovely little tale that shouldn't be missed.