Take a Walk
Everyone who's ever been chained to a cubicle for a wage has experienced a kind of shared imprisonment. Yes, even here at JIG, where our cubicles are made from licorice ropes and gingerbread, where the boss never asks for TPS reports, and where we play video games without fear of reprisal because it's our job, even here in our ivory tour amid the pink fluffy cotton candy clouds we sometimes feel the oppression of our admittedly awesome cubicles. Every creature forced to toil away within the confines of those familiar and cheaply constructed (though in our case, mighty tasty) partitions has experienced that same monotonous, shoulder sagging boredom just as we've all experienced that same learned claustrophobia until it's all just too much to take. It's then, when the partitions start to collapse in on you, and the sounds of fingers clacking away at keyboards in a never ending drone (or, in our case, the thirtieth time in an hour you hear Art scream "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!") that you sometimes need to log off, put your headphones on, and go Take a Walk.
This beautifully musical platformer from Dachuan Lu (with music from Kevin MacLeod and art courtesy Min Lin) provides the very escape cubicle slaves crave directly through your computer screen. As the title might suggest, all you really need to do is walk, listen to the music, and occasionally jump over an obstacle here and there with either the [arrow] keys, or [Z]. If you miss a jump, no worries, simply go back (complete with Braid like special effects), and try again.
Your soul soothing stroll will take you across several lands each with its own soundtrack. As you take in the sights and sounds feel free to collect the hovering musical notes and while you're at it pay attention to the little birdies that begin to congregate around you. The longer you go without stopping or making an error, the more birds you accumulate, and the more notes and birds you collect help unlock special features such as bonus animation sequences. So what are you waiting for? Unshackle yourself from your particle board grindstone, break free from the constant torture of spreadsheet after spreadsheet, turn up that music and take yourself a little walk.
Analysis: It's rare to come across a game like Take a Walk, one that grabs you by both ears and exclaims in dulcet tones, "I am something special!" Usually evaluating and reviewing a game takes a lot of play time and guess work and gut checking, following your instincts only to second guess and ultimately decide that your instincts aren't worth an already scratched losing lottery ticket. And then you come across a game like this and from almost the beginning you feel a smile spread across your face and something inside you tells you that this game is doing it right.
Take a Walk is one of those dreaded "art house" games. The action isn't particularly fast and furious, there's hardly any challenge, and you won't find even one single alien, machine gun, anthropomorphic fungi, fire breathing dragon, princess, or evil fetus in a formally dressed jar. But neither is Take a Walk pretentious. Just as you won't find a number of button masher video game tropes, you don't have to worry about overly obscure metaphors, sanctimonious preaching dressed up as gameplay, or poor design decisions righteously explained off as some metaphysical something or other. What Take a Walk offers is instead gorgeous pen and ink artwork lovingly wrapped in a pitch perfect soundtrack with just enough gameplay to suck you into the whole experience.
While it seems simple, the attention to detail at work here is amazing. Each level is choreographed wonderfully to its designated song, so much so that, if you do want something of a challenge, you can actually try playing the game with your eyes closed, letting the beat and stressed notes guide when you jump. In fact, everything is connected in this game, the music, the scenery, even your character's mood. As we begin we find our downcast hero plodding through a depressing urban setting with a melancholy piano plucking out its melody in the background. By the end, we're running free through windswept trees and the happy strumming of steel strings.
Not that everyone will love Take a Walk. It can be a little saccharine sweet which won't please the cynical and embittered, and if you're looking for something with enough challenge to make sweat bead up on your brow and your fingers tremble, this ain't it. But if you are looking for a well designed game that showcases good music strolling hand in hand with good art, the only real thing to complain about is that this ends far too soon. Simple, beautiful, and earnest, Take a Walk provides a peaceful, smile inducing escape from your every day plod, and you don't even have to leave the confines of your cubicle to enjoy it.