Released a handful of days ago for free in the Steam store, The Mammoth: A Cave Painting is a short narrative game with a stunning art style, inspired to cave paintings. The indie studio Inbetweengames brought us one of the biggest hits of 2017, All Walls Must Fall – I just had to try this one!
However, The Mammoth: A Cave Painting makes me feel conflicted. On one hand, it’s short and unique enough that I’m glad it even exists in the first place. There’s not much to gripe about when it comes to this sort of game; just simple mechanics complimenting a simple story.
On the other hand, I don’t feel like it quite hit the mark that these artistic games can reach to be memorable. Part of me hopes it gets a cool cult following to keep it alive, but I’m just not sure if it will. Honestly, it ends up leaving me hanging.
The Gameplay, and My Concerns…
The Mammoth is a short, story-driven game by Inbetweengames. One of those artsy games that make you question if “game” is the right word to use anymore, when something like “experience” or “Interactive software” would fit better.
There isn’t much in the way of gameplay here. You can charge forward, trampling any hunters in your path or let out a roar which calls your young mammoths and scares off nearby hunters. Other than movement, that’s it for controls. There isn’t much to say about them; for the purposes of the game they work just fine, the real focus of this game is its story.
The problem for me however, is that the story is just rather unimpressive. I have a habit of being harsh on games so let me go ahead and preface this with a disclaimer: As a piece of media and art, I really like The Mammoth: A Cave Painting. Now that that’s out of the way…
Look, I love these types of games and I mean love them. I still enjoyed this one just as much as any other artsy story-driven adventure I could play, but when all was said and done and I had finished playing it I sorta just felt incomplete. I almost felt like some part of it was missing, like it needed a bit more to tie it all together.
A Run-Through of the Plot. (Spoilers)
The story of The Mammoth is pretty brief and it isn’t really spoiling anything to explain what happens so – here I go.
Having noticed your child (who is also a mammoth) falling behind the rest of the herd, you go back to retrieve it. After doing so you see that the rest of the herd has gone on without you and you attempt to catch up; finding two more young mammoths along the way. Eventually, hunters take notice and attempt to kill you and your momentarily adopted children.
I tend to easily get into a game if it is well presented – which The Mammoth certainly is – so for all intents and purposes, I was fully immersed; tense, ready, and determined to punish those hunters fo attacking me and my children.
Eventually, the hunters became too thick and the combined task of having to destroy their shelters as well as protect the children from a wall of spears led to me losing the smallest child. Heartbroken I killed the rest of them and moved on; only to find that, as the sun began to set, the hunters had already killed the rest of the mammoths. And so the sun set on the hunters, the mammoth, and the plains.
That’s it, that’s the story. You can assumedly save all three of the children if you’re good enough, but I wasn’t able to across my three playthroughs. Playthroughs that, for me, only lasted about five minutes.
Where My Issues Lie…
Now, the playtime and length don’t really matter to me. The problem I see with is that the story ended right as I was getting invested. I love these types of short games you can play, absorb and have something to look back on in less time than it takes to have lunch; but sometimes they just leave me with a sense of yearning, as if it just needed a bit more to feel like a full experience.
That’s my main issue here. I like The Mammoth, I really do. The art and style of the game, as if it were the imagination of a caveman come to life, sat so well with me. I loved the simple, crayon-drawn aesthetic that permeated the game. Even the way that voice lines were delivered, as the narrator spoke into a seemingly less-than-high-quality mic. I didn’t mind, I even found it charming.
It all seemed great but in the end, I just wasn’t satisfied. I can’t help but feel maybe one or two minutes of epilogue by the narrator could have tied the whole thing up. Maybe a message of how, no matter how much you try to protect what you love, tragedy will always strike; or something about trying your hardest no matter how little it gets you.
I don’t know man, I’m no philosopher; but something wasn’t there for me, something important. For what it’s worth, I did enjoy the ending, even if it had left me wanting; and I do recommend playing the game. It only takes about five minutes after all, and it’s well worth your time
It’s Missing Something, but What it Has is Good.
The Mammoth: A Cave Painting is good, but not great; and like most just-good games nowadays, I fear it’ll be quickly forgotten under the weight of all the greats.
Though, even if I do feel unsatisfied with it, The Mammoth is still something special; and that might be all that matters.