Ask anybody what the saddest thing is and you'll get a different answer. And probably a wrong one, too. Because the fact is that the saddest thing is not a kitten in the rain, a little boy with a skinned knee, or a crying clown — especially because clowns are evil and deserve any misery they get. No, friends, the saddest thing is one little robot, all alone in the world, who needs your help. Little Wheel, from the fine folks at One Click Dog, is a point-and-click adventure with the most style tucked into it's itty-bitty package that you've ever seen.
Little Wheel is the story of a world of self-sufficient robots. Everything runs like clockwork until one day when a mishap at the power core shuts down the entire civilization. After ten thousand years of rusting, a chance lightning strike restores power to one small hero, who sets out to start everything back up again.
Little Wheel is played entirely with the mouse, and the design could not be friendlier. There's no hunting for pixels or hot-spots, as things you can interact with are highlighted by a gray circle. Instead of collecting seemingly random items and rubbing them against everything to see if it advances the story, most puzzles in the game are solved simply by choosing to click these interactive areas in their correct order.
As such, it takes a lot of the thinking out of what would otherwise be some really difficult puzzles. Click on something and Little Wheel will putter off to investigate, and watching its actions will give you clues as to the order in which you should proceed. The journey isn't a long one, but it's a delight to see what new obstacle your little mechanical buddy has to tackle next.
Analysis: It would be a lot easier to feel sadder about Little Wheel's predicament if the whole thing wasn't so gosh darn pretty. Little Wheel's simple palette of sepia and black is still able to produce a remarkably detailed silhouette world. Structures and characters are rendered with loving detail, down to every winch and switch, and animated with just as much care. Everything moves as smoothly as a penguin sliding down a hill made of butter. Which, take my word for it, is very smooth indeed!
The only real complaint I have with Little Wheel is how short and relatively easy it is. Even if you don't use a walkthrough, it doesn't take long to figure out which item onscreen to click first. There are times when it's more like watching an animated short than playing a game, but the sheer amount of polish that has gone into it more than makes up for its length. If sacrificing an hour of gameplay has lead us to this gorgeously rendered and animated adventure, then that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.
Aided by a mellow, finger-snappin' jazz soundtrack that makes me want to kick back in a fedora and tell everyone to "Just relax, maaaan", Little Wheel is a stellar example of its genre. Its length and lack of replay value make it something more suited to a lunchbreak than a whole afternoon, but a healthy dose of charm and undeniable quality will make it one of the most memorable point-and-click adventures in a long while.
Cheers to Dan for sending this one in! =)