Cross stitching is usually thought of as a craft dedicated to fair maidens locked away in forbidding towers, or else Internet-lurking DIY aficionados who use it to embroider Star Wars quotes. But it takes courage to attempt (and succeed wonderfully) to turn it into a game, and that makes Cross Stitch Casper an entirely singular point-and-click experience.
When we first meet Casper, he's just waking up and wants to check on his dad. As he gets up and goes out of his room and through the kitchen, you get the idea that he doesn't lead a perfectly comfortable life, but it's not until he reaches his father's room that you understand why. His father is a drunk and a gambler and has managed to get in debt with a certain Mr. Raynold, who threatens to take the family ranch as payment. All the responsibility falls on Casper's little shoulders, as he has to find a way to keep his home.
It's a short game in a small world, so getting around isn't difficult. Use the mouse to play – right click to examine, left click to pick items up and use them. The cross stitched nature of the graphics doesn't allow for many details, so some objects might be difficult to recognise, but it's easy to identify them by examining. There is a limited number of uncluttered rooms which simplifies the search for usable items and makes the gameplay natural and intuitive.
Granted, you don't come across embroidered games every day, and it is quite a hit-and-miss choice. It could have easily backfired and seemed like a gimmicky (though ingenious) way to create a novelty game. Instead, the cross stitching actually provides a beautiful frame for the story. It adds a quaint, homey feeling to the Western setting (complete with a saloon and some tumbleweed) and gives the strange impression of a true family drama taking place on a piece of fabric.
When talking about a game which takes about half an hour to finish, it's hard to say anything about the plot without spoiling it. Let's just say that, in such a short time, Cross Stitch Casper tells a complete story of misspent lives, of hope, despair and powerlessness. When you play it (and you really should), take your time. It deals with terribly difficult issues, but it moves quite quickly, so you might lose something if you don't stop at every scene and dialogue and let it sink in. There will also be one item, easily missed and immaterial to the plot, but if you use it, it will reward you with a touching scene.
Cross Stitch Casper is one of those rare and delicate games which manage to fit a formidable amount of emotions and meaning into a small package. With its unique visual style and masterful storytelling, this is one little gem you shouldn't miss.
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