Preview – The Perfect Pencil [Demo] PC
The Perfect Pencil is a hand-drawn 2D metroidvania whose art style and general theme (adults being creepy as all hell and acting like babies) reminded me heavily of Neversong. Now I think about it, both protagonists even fight with a pencil weapon! There’s no developer cross-over, as far as I could find, but the similarities are there, even down to the often-too-slow backtracking, simple combat, and clever puzzle elements. Waking up on a dock and having a camera plonked on your head by some kind of alien shopkeeper is how it all begins. The camera sputters to life and starts projecting the image of a white wolf thing, scaring our little dude to the ground, and then off you go – go kill it I guess? It’s the only way to escape this weird place! Or so we’re told. From there it’s bouncing around chatting to weirdo NPCs, scanning for hidden collectibles using the camera’s analysis tool and accompanying radar, and hack-n-slashing your way through rooms of enemies as you platform across.
Whilst the world absolutely accomplishes its goal of being as psychologically damaging as possible, with horrible enemies ranging from grown men crawling around with their limbs protruding from cribs to yet more grown men hopping along in high chairs complete with dummies and rattles, it can be rather messy to look at. The aggressive amount of parallax layers and decoration detail can often make it challenging to see enemies or their attacks. Perhaps that’s done purposefully though, because it’s usually the only way the player is going to get hit, or die anyway. See, the baby-men aren’t all that strong and there’s a healing attack which can be used every fourth hit, requiring only a small charge to activate. It’s clear from how the whole thing is put together that this isn’t supposed to be a tough game, like so many other 2D action platformers strive for (usually trying to follow in Hollow Knight’s holy footsteps). Instead, the team are telling a story through the design – every scene is rife with metaphor. The locations, the characters, the dialogue choices.
I respect that, I really do. But I also know I couldn’t force myself through what would, to me, be a lukewarm experience just for a thought-provoking message – funnily enough I felt exactly the same way playing Neversong, which is probably why I can’t get the comparison out of my head. I personally need a hook, whether through unique or testing gameplay, or via a narrative I find deeply engaging. The Perfect Pencil didn’t quite do that for me, to be honest. The adults playing around made me too uncomfortable (even though I understand that was the whole point), the environments I found to be hectic and random which broke my immersion, and the action/platforming is currently just too easy and repetitive to pull me in. However, many people loved Neversong for exactly those reasons – because it wasn’t afraid to be strange and different in order to make a point – and I’m sure many more will instantly click with this one for the same reasons. Whilst there is still time for them to work in more mechanically-attractive engagements, a cleaner design, and maybe a more developed opening, I’m confident a lot of folk will be very happy to find a game just like this. One where they can explore at their own pace without needing to ‘git gud’, or be force-fed lore. One with a story the player can discover for themselves and revel in. One where every little piece of if reinforces the theme. And if that sounds like something you’d be interested in, I have just the thing…