Indie Game of the Week 194: Milkmaid of the Milky Way

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I realize I'm doing a whole Halloween-themed daily series of late, but nothing stops the Indie Game of the Week. Nor does anything stop Ruth, the heroine of this storybook sci-fi tale about a Norwegian milkmaid who is forced to intervene when an alien spaceship attempts to make off with her beloved bovine one cold morn. This leads to a Space Quest-esque adventure of ingenuity and courage in the face of certain death, as she attempts to rescue the elderly and frail populace of the ship from their greedy queen, who has used the ship's "age machine" technology to sap all their vigor away and keep herself alive indefinitely. Ruth, also, finds herself victim to this intergalactic Elizabeth Báthory, and must figure out how to restore her own youth on top of everything else.

Milkmaid of the Milky Way is a deliberately lo-fi affair, but it finds the beauty in that aesthetic with its impressive, sweeping MS Paint vistas (seriously, they look pretty good in-context) and a soundtrack which is very soothing and melodic. The game does have its moments of tension, and more than a few tricky puzzles (including a handful of timed ones), but there's no concerns about death states and it has a very measured tempo throughout as you take in these wonders through the eyes of a sheltered farmgirl. A big part of the game's storybook cadence involves the decision to deliver every piece of dialogue, inner monologue, and narrator exposition as a rhyming couplet. Between the pixel graphics and its musical and rhythmical flourishes, it has the vibe of an early Sierra point-and-click mixed with that Sword and Sworcery EP action-adventure game from a few years back.

Not much to see and do out in the mountains and fjords, but it sure is picturesque. In an early VGA kind of way.
Not much to see and do out in the mountains and fjords, but it sure is picturesque. In an early VGA kind of way.

That said, while the game is charming and nails the particular aesthetic it's going for, I had a few issues with it. The first has us circle back around to those rhyming couplets; I find bad rhymes excruciating in ways I can't entirely express, and more than once they've ruined a song by sticking out like a sore thumb. Like the game's "dairy queen" heroine, the developers of the game are natively Norwegian and so there's a few tricks to the English language that caught them out. Said tricks include words that look like they should rhyme but don't: I've included one in the screenshot below, and another example tries to rhyme "year" with "pear". Other rhyming couplets have wildly different numbers of syllables, which throws off the rhythm they're trying to create. The game doesn't have voiced dialogue, which might be a blessing given how awkward a lot of these lines would've sounded but it might also have served the developers in showing them where they messed up. Some part of me respects the hell out of an author for choosing to write an entire adventure game script in rhyming pairs in their second language, but it's still overall a net negative to the game's quality.

The presence of some minor glitches were probably inherent to Unity and the adventure game engine the developers were using; one such instance had me stuck in a walking loop unable to continue. However, since the game appears to autosave after passing through every area transition, it wasn't much of an issue to roll it back. My other complaints are those relating to the evolution of modern adventure games: usability tools like a "reveal hotspots" button or a faster way to move around the world (either via a map of scenes, or an instant area transition function after, say, double-clicking an exit) should be standard to this genre by now. In fairness, the game's not really pixel-hunty enough for the former or large enough to need the latter; my only gripe here is that the two in-game maps are laid out in a mostly linear fashion, requiring you to pass through many screens to get from one end to the other.

I tried to make these rhyme in my head and I... I just feel pain now.
I tried to make these rhyme in my head and I... I just feel pain now.

It's a little unpolished as a result, but it gave its director a confident voice that they appear to have carried on into Embracelet: a much more ambitious polygonal adventure game with a magical realism theme that released just last month and seems to be garnering a small but vociferous amount of praise. Milkmaid, meanwhile, is a short and sweet tone piece with just enough of that old "moon logic" adventure game puzzle spice to evoke its genre antecedents, and ultimately worth the one or two hours it asks of your time. (Except if you really hate rhyming, I guess; it's not that invasive, I feel I must stress.)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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