It’s not every day an indie game goes viral, but once you see it on CNN and the evening news, you know that’s what’s happened. House House’s charming goosey adventure, Untitled Goose Game, came out at the end of September. I was busy with other things, and though the concept of being a very bad goose was amusing, it wasn’t enough to sell me. I’d played Goat Simulator when it’d come out, and though flinging goats around for awhile was entertaining, there wasn’t much else there. Untitled Goose Game seemed built around the same thing–it’s fun to be a silly animal.
When things slowed down a little bit–everything except the excitement around the game, I finally stopped pre-judging and got myself a copy on Nintendo Switch. It’s at this point I must admit I prejudged a game and was wrong. Untitled Goose Game is no gimmick. Yes, it’s charming, and yes, it’s hilarious to run around pestering townsfolk, stealing their keys, forks, packages and food and locking them in their gardens–but it’s more than that. Untitled Goose Game has immersive but simple gameplay. It doesn’t over explain and condescend, but it’s also easy enough for anyone in the family to pick up and start to play.
Gameplay is simple enough–there’s only a few things the goose can do. You can swim, flap your wings, waddle around, sneak, honk, and, very importantly–steal things. And, aside from just doing these things at will to get a giggle–you’ve got an agenda. Written in immaculate cursive are your objectives for each area. Some will be easy–steal the radio from the gardener working on his plot. Some require multiple steps and techniques–like locking the gardener out of his own garden.
This requires some careful observation to find out what his routine is, and what will make him chase you out of his garden, through the gate. You’ll also have to figure out how you’re going to steal the keys off his belt loop, and keep him from getting them back. Humans the goose interacts with can’t really harm the goose, per se, but they have the ability to angrily rebuff him, enough that he’ll not be able to hold on to things or head in the direction the angry person is standing. The introductory list of objectives is fantastic for teaching you different techniques you’ll need to be able to figure out some of the harder puzzles later.
When you’re making a picnic and stealing a whole list of ingredients, you’ll find it’s not as simple as running off with them one by one. If you steal in plain sight, you can and will be chased, and if the human gets close enough, you’ll drop whatever you’re holding and they’ll be able to pick it up and take it right back where it belongs. This can be really frustrating when you were one apple away from lunch by the lake and the farmer starts reclaiming all of his possessions. Simply sneaking away with everything won’t be the magic answer either, though, as sometimes you’ll need to cause a ruckus in order to get someone away from something you need or to steal a few decoy objects before getting the object you desire. Later on, you’ll need to figure out how to cause chain reactions and orchestrate the chaos until it serves you.
Once you’ve done the “easier” objectives, new, harder ones will appear. They’re optional, and won’t stop you from progressing to the next area, but they’re also some of the most fun parts of the game if you stop to figure them out. What’s brilliant about the gameplay in Untitled Goose Game is that it’s so simple anyone can pick up a controller and play, but there’s a real depth to it if you want to be good. There are tactics, for example–and one size doesn’t fit all. In some cases, a direct run to your objective and back, no stopping or looking back, will suit. In others, you’ll want to REALLY cause a scene, destroying displays, honking and flapping like a damn fool. At other times, stealth is key and you’ll find yourself hiding in the bushes waiting for that guy to put his paper down and go for the coffee. It’s in this way that it’s all absurd, but has a nuance to it that makes it more than a stupid gag.
It’s also what makes it a challenge. There were some really good puzzles in the relatively few hours it takes to complete the game–ones where the objective was clearly stated, but seemed totally impossible for a single goose to achieve, and some where you knew exactly what you had to do and how, but one small slip up like running under the wrong table at the pub would have you starting all over again. Progression in the game is great, too, as things get harder and more ridiculous the further along you go. There are so many moments that brought genuine laughs, like earning a flower for my performance at the pub, or stealing shoes, honking about it, and making a mad dash for a hole in the fence, or the time I stole just about everything in the shop out of anger because the shop lady kept unloading my basket before I could check myself out with everything I needed.
Add to this a storybook perfect art style and a simple but perfectly suited instrumental soundtrack, as well as a madcap final mission and ending, and I get it now. Untitled Goose Game is great because they didn’t rest on the inherent humor of it being a lovely morning and you being a horrible goose. They added simple enough gameplay that you can hand the controller to your grandma, your toddler, or the family’s most experienced gamer and they’ll all be able to play, but layered enough gameplay that you’ll find a challenge in the game no matter what, plenty of silly situations and laugh, enough charm to level that same village, and all the little touches that take something from good to great. The game ran smoothly and other than being stumped for a while in certain levels, I didn’t have any other frustrations when running around the village wreaking havoc.
Untitled Goose Game is a game you shouldn’t skip. It’s great for little ones, experienced gamers, and great for a playthrough with family at the holidays. It’s giggle inducing, it makes you think (and teaches you the power of keen observational skills) and it is beautiful and smooth to look at and play. It’s not violent beyond slapstick humor, and its protagonist/antagonist, while annoying, is just trying to spice things up a little. If you’ve got a sense of mischief and humor and have ever loved playing games–any games at all–this should be on your list.
Untitled Goose Game is available on PC or Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and XBox One.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content and more. Patreon.com/3CR