“You wander through the muddy swamps, eye to eye with large mechanical bugs, and your task is to collect the berries to make the jam”. That’s what the elevator pitch must have sounded like when Developer Play Cute decided to start working on the puzzle adventure title Varenje.
This exploration-focused indie game drags you into a world of forestry and deserts, which delves in and out of reality. So.. let’s discover more of it together!
Down the Rabbit Hole
The story of Varenje puts you in the shoes of the hero, currently residing in a cottage. You find a berry lying alongside a stream and, similarly to Alice and the ‘Drink Me’ bottle, the hero is suddenly reduced to the size of a bug.
The game’s goal is to find a way to get back to your normal size. The answers you seek lie in the berries and other hidden objects that you find during your travels. The more you unravel, the more is revealed about the hero, and the further the story goes.
In terms of how the player flows through the game, the mechanics are similar to any other hidden objects puzzle. In order to move forward in the game, hidden objects and images need to be discovered. Accompanying these are mini-puzzles that you complete to unlock new finds.
What’s charming is that the puzzles blend into the environment of the game significantly well. However, the people behind Varenje included a skip button, which you can use when you’ve been on a puzzle for a long period of time.The button was sometimes just too tempting and is a lazy approach to solving the puzzle, so the game’s longevity mostly relies on the gamer’s resilience.
This would be less of an issue if the puzzles were difficult, but a majority of the time the challenges were easily solvable. The feature defies the whole purpose of a puzzle being an obstacle. Perhaps, it would have been beneficial if the button wasn’t there at all to create a deeper challenge in these puzzles.
The Significance of Berries
When you do get stuck, a berry-matching puzzle is used to unlock a clue or a hidden object that you missed. This puzzle is a lifesaver, especially when you’ve been on a level for a couple of minutes trying to find that last stick. Similar to the skip button, however, it does make the game easier.
Although the use of berries as guidance – when the game is about collecting the berries to return to reality – is very appropriate, there could have been an option at the beginning of the game to choose the difficulty, adding or removing the skip button and berry puzzles accordingly.
Additionally, the role of the berries as being key to the player’s escape, however, is not clear until you come across a series of cut-scenes. Each scene is eccentric and makes sense at the same time. Whenever they are triggered, you find yourself inside a hospital as a patient, questioned by therapist, patients or nurses.
All of the segments relate back to the levels and finding berries and talking to bugs. The hero tries to explain it but whatever they say is treated like dreams. Obviously, the only result the system achieves is making things even more confusing
The story of the game could have done with a bit more clarification. Maybe more cut-scenes timed in the middle of a puzzle, as a way of jumping between different world, would have made it more surreal.
Whilst the narrative could use a once-over, the cut scenes and the way they reference the in-game world turn out to be clever and witty; especially when the game is self-reflexive and plays on your fears of being able to find only six out of seven objects.
Game is Art
With the wit of the cut-scenes comes the charm of the actual game design. Each image, each level, and each cut-scene are hand designed by the artists.
The art of the game gives the impression that a lot of thought and design was put into these levels. It adds another level of appreciation to a game that already has some great features.
Similar to the music, the art helps to immerse you into this world of swamps and deserts. It’s also a great contrast and sets itself apart from the cut-scenes that lacked music and detailed scenery.
Back to Varenje
Whilst this is a puzzle game with charm, its replay value is limited by how short the game is and its function as a hidden objects puzzle. A player could attempt to finish Varenje twice. The first time to actually play the game and the second time to understand what is going on with the narrative.
However, the game doesn’t have any replayability value past this. Still, you shouldn’t feel deterred from giving Varenje a go (you can find the game on the Steam Store). In summary, this is a game that does serve its purpose as a short but solid adventure.
Although the developers had issues months before its release, you should definitely consider adding Varenje to your collection. The issue of the narrative does not take you away from the gameplay. Rather, it makes you want to press on, onwards and further into this Wonderland!