Earthworms by developer All Those Moments is a surreal and often absurd point and click adventure game. Longtime fans of the genre will likely find the gameplay familiar, with a few bits of intrigue that make it stand out.
The first impression players will get will likely come from Earthworms’ art style. Backgrounds and characters look like living paintings, with characters animated in a style that almost looks like hand-painted card puppets. The landscapes do not move, but instead shimmer, giving every environment an otherworldly quality.
The story starts with a block of text giving you background and your character–a detective who gets psychic visions. The gameplay starts in your office, where you take your first case from a man dressed as a tree. But the weirdness is just getting started–let me reiterate: the story doesn’t start to get really weird until much later. The story is divided into two main parts: the search for a missing little girl, and the weirdness afterwards.
Overall the narrative of the first half fits relatively well under the umbrella of a supernatural mystery. You’re invited to a small island community to track down a missing girl, and the few residents you encounter are somewhat less than forthcoming. It’s not long before you encounter the titular objects, which are not actual earthworms. Instead they are pink, plant-like tentacles that grow like parasites out of the ground, strangling trees and occasionally growing out of someone’s face. The residents don’t pretend that these tentacles don’t exist, but what they choose to hide suggests they know more about them, and the missing girl, than they are willing to admit.
One of the highlights of Earthworms is the soundtrack by Piotr Surmacz. It does a good job of increasing that feeling of unease–throughout you’ll experience a droning, techno-industrial instrumental style that does plenty to keep you from feeling at peace. Some discordant melody reinforces the impression that the story gives–that something is a little off.
At the conclusion after you solve your case, and are no longer searching for the little girl, the story switches gears entirely and abandons the genre of supernatural mystery to jump into what feels like science fantasy. This tonal shift comes with a drastic change in locale, and the only element explicitly connecting it to the first half are those pink, tentacle-like earthworms. It’s here where I feel the story really falters. Your motivations for pressing on from this point are unclear. Your case is closed and you never really follow up on it. Sure, these earthworms are strange, but aren’t really motivation enough to go forwards besides knowing there is more game left.
The second part of the story isn’t the only stumbling block I encountered. Upon completion of Earthworms I was given a rather brief ending, consisting of a few blocks of text and a couple images. This felt about as satisfying as a Tic-Tac for dessert. Other areas that weakened the story included inconsistent storytelling. For example, the detective is Buddhist, and against harming animals, right up until the moment he’s asked to kill a rat. From then on, his pacifism remains an afterthought, either included or ignored wherever it’s convenient for the story. Another inconsistent narrative point was when a Stalin look-alike tells the detective to join them or die. Your option effects a solution to a puzzle, but doesn’t seem to affect the outcome of the story at all. If you choose not to join, it’s still possible to finish the game with a “Positive” ending.
As with many point and click adventures, the puzzles range from straightforward and intuitive to obtuse and baffling. Even in times where you know what the solution is, you may find yourself on a pixel hunt search for the one exact right place to click on. This particular problem was relatively rare in my time with Earthworms, but it was still a frustrating one. More common was the frequency of solutions involving “moon logic”–a type of illogical, often off-the-wall solutions to puzzles that don’t intuitively make sense. You may find yourself trying to use every inventory item on every interactive object in the room in hopes of a solution. In many cases you will receive visions that provide clues as to what objects are connected to a sub-plot or puzzle. Often those connections can help determine where an object should be used, helping to combat random guesses, and are somewhat helpful when they appear for that reason. Other puzzles, such as a particularly confounding puzzle that involved moving furniture, could have benefited from this mechanic, but had no vision associated with it.
It should be mentioned that during this review, I did encounter some inventory-based glitches early on. After a clean install and a patch was released, I did not experience those glitches again and was able to play the game without issue. The developer welcomes feedback and asks that anyone encountering any additional problems contact them. They’re quick to respond, and enthusiastically willing to continue to technically support Earthworms.
If you aren’t a fan of old-school style point and click adventures, Earthworms will probably not change your mind. But if you are a fan of point and click adventures, especially those with surreal absurdity, then its low price makes it an easy choice.
A copy of this game was provided to us for review purposes