Puzzle games are oftentimes quite divisive. It’s a balancing act. The art of trying to hit the sweet spot of just the right degree of challenge for the player whilst also keeping it fun, engaging, and compelling. Summertime Madness aims to master this balance whilst also exploring some salient themes like faith, love, despair, pain, and hope.
A brush with Madness in Summertime
Developed by the small Italian team DP Games, this port of the 2021 PC release is brought to console aided by the porting/publishing talents of the team at Sometimes You. The small install size of the game means it can be kept on console and used as a pallet cleanser between bigger titles.
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Set in Prague at the culmination of World War II you assume the role of a painter who, while painting in his apartment as the city is bombed, is visited by a mysterious stranger. The stranger offers the painter the chance to enter one of his own canvases to escape his current reality. The caveat is that if you do not find your own way out of the painting you shall be trapped there for eternity. It is here that you are given the option to select how you want to tackle the challenge. Classic Mode offers up 6hrs to escape, Advanced Mode gives 3hrs and lastly, Explorer Mode has no time limit.
As you open your eyes inside your own creation you really feel the vibrancy of the colours, having left the dreary reality of your Prague apartment behind. Gone is the sound of bombs peppering the city replaced with a lush, serene landscape. The puzzles throughout are varied but with the objective being the same – interact with switches and objects, find collectibles open new areas and explore your way back to reality.
Interaction with objects however leaves a bit to be desired as playing on a controller doesn’t offer the precision of a mouse for pointing and clicking. It sometimes felt frustrating trying to line up the exact object alignment to be able to interact, clearly a side effect of being a PC port. Refinements to the controls or even some sensitivity sliders in the menu would be a very welcome addition here to improve the experience.
As I ventured along the mysterious journey I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. This lasted right up until I hit the Neo Prague area. Oozing style and mood I found myself completely immersed in the atmospheric surroundings as if I had been drawn right into the canvas alongside the painter.
This area for me is a masterclass in level design, with some wonderfully designed puzzles that really get you thinking. The environmental elements paired with superb sound design here really enhance the experience. Without spoiling anything, the gameplay mechanic here reminiscent of Titanfall 2 takes the puzzle complexity up a notch. Your brain now has an extra factor to consider in the solving process. I shall savour my next visit to Neo Prague – So, so enjoyable.
With so much emphasis from the get-go being on the time limit element, it was somewhat of a disappointment to find that the time ultimately only matters for the trophies/achievements. Arriving at the final puzzle you realise that no matter how much excess time you have remaining, it matters not. Your time is dwindled right down giving you a set time to finish the last puzzle regardless of how much time you had entering into the final task.
Being a native PS5 app, I was also bewildered by the lack of any use of the Dualsense features which would enhance the immersive experience. One such example would be to have the wind audio in The Lighthouse puzzle come from the controller speaker. Hopefully, this kind of thing could be added in future updates.
Graphics & Audio
The art style on show is beautiful with brush and pencil strokes really selling that premise that you now reside within an actual piece of art. Each chapter showcases some fantastic set pieces from the painter’s body of work, with one area having some truly mind-bending perspective sequences using the Penrose staircase. I also recognised some Van Goh-inspired work within and I’m sure there is other famous artists’ work featured that I wouldn’t recognise. These bits would be a nice touch for any art enthusiast.
The soundtrack provides a meditative backdrop to the journey and it almost purposefully tricks you into moving slowly through the environment.
Joel Nilsson’s voiceover work on the narration, whilst short is really well delivered. The gritty quality of his voice sells the mood being portrayed in the opening sequence.
At one point late in the game, the fourth wall is broken in a Kojima-esque move that I thought was genius. I tip my hat to whoever came up with that one. Great work!
During my time with the game, I didn’t experience any noticeable graphical issues. I did however come across a little bug that left the “look” icon got stuck visible on screen and I couldn’t get rid of it.
My initial playthrough (on Classic Mode) took me around 3 hours as I bagged the trophy for beating the game that fast. That being said choosing Explorer mode gives you free rein to potter through the experience and tackle the puzzles at your leisure so there is an open-ended amount of time to achieve and discover everything the game has to offer.
For the trophy hunters, there are 15 in all (5 silver, 9 gold & 1 Platinum). The only possible stickler here to grabbing yourself that shiny platinum is the Escapologist trophy, which requires you to complete the game in 1 hour. There are also some shortcuts to discover along the way that can allow you to breeze past full sections of the journey. At the time of writing, I’m psyching myself up for a shot at a speed run, armed with the few shortcuts I have in my brain.
If there’s one word I could use to encapsulate Summertime Madness it would be potential. This being DP Games maiden title there are some true flashes of brilliance here, notably in level design and exquisitely designed artwork. The aforementioned Neo Prague level is a real stand-out statement of the talent at the studio and I hope that they use this section of the game as a benchmark to work from as they build their next title.
If you’re a console gamer looking for a game that will flex your cognitive powers then go check it out when it releases to consoles on January 26th. Summertime Madness receives the Thumb Culture Silver Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.