In the world of indie games, there are several projects that aim to be more art than game, and Souvenir seems to be trying to go in this direction. A thesis prototype by Robert Yang, Mohini Dutta, and Ben Norskov, Souvenir is a look through the fragmented memories of a a young woman looking back on her childhood as she comes of age.
The “game” is played by shifting the plane of gravity from on direction to another and falling through a fragmented, non-linear memory world reminiscent of M. C. Escher. As you travel, you collect little fragments of your character’s memories. It’s an interesting idea, and one I haven’t really seen in the gaming world before.
Souvenir is an early prototype, and it shows. Not only is the gravity-shifting element incredibly unreliable, seeming to depend more on luck than where you point your cursor, even simple WASD movement and jumping feels, to quote the developer’s website, “like you’re wearing boots made out of peanut butter, but like really bad processed gummy peanut butter with lots of corn syrup and guar gum in it.” No disagreement here. When you get flung off into the void by a misaimed shift (and you will), sometimes you respawn in such a way as to promptly fall off into nothingness again. The “game” element of Souvenir is little more than a shaky framework of matchsticks and tissue paper at the moment.
Of course, unfinished gameplay isn’t something to hold against a prototype. What about the story, the art? Well… it’s not there either. Sure, I got to pick up little tidbits of this girl’s life (smoking behind the school, stealing the dollar she was supposed to put in the collection plate), but nothing made me care about her. There were no compelling moments to be found in the floating phrases over her memories. The spiraling, bizarre dreamscape of the world has potential, but it’s impossible to tell at this point if that potential will ever be reached.
I’ve played some agonizingly incomplete builds of games before, but there was always at least something there to be compelling. Souvenir, on the other hand, has nothing to even grab ahold of to call good or bad. Frankly, the project isn’t ready to see the light of day in any kind of playable format, and the developers should have stuck to trailers and screenshots for now. With time, effort, and a whole lot of polish Souvenir could be something, or it could collapse under the weight its own ambition. It’s impossible to say right now, but I certainly hope for the best.
TOMOrrow is a series about the upcoming games of tomorrow, with first impressions of videos, alphas, betas and demos.