Editor’s note: You might recognize Annapurna Interactive as the publishers of the runaway hit game Stray, which offered a cat’s eye view of a strange sci-fi world. But the publisher works with a lot of interesting titles, like the one we are covering today, Hindsight. While Hindsight may not achieve the commercial success of Stray, it’s nonetheless packed with artistic vision.
I first covered Hindsight back in May as part of one of my Fresh Look columns about games I was most looking forward to playing. Having finally got a chance to grab it for the Nintendo Switch (it’s also on Steam for the PC and all the console platforms, plus mobile) I can now fully review it.
Hindsight is a narrative story game about a woman named Mary who’s processing the death of her mother by revisiting her memories from birth to present. Wow, when putting it that way, it sounds like a super depressing game. I was initially drawn to Hindsight due to the reflective nature of the story and interactive puzzle scenery. I was surprised to be hit with the dead parent plot point but seeing as how Mary isn’t super upset about it, my empathy wasn’t immediately triggered. Side note, I cry during touching movie trailers and commercials, so it’s a hair trigger sometimes.
I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, as that’s really the only point of playing the game, but I found the plot fairly unsatisfactory. Mary’s early childhood memories give off the vibe that her mother was uncaring and cold. There were a few instances that Mary recalls where she was either in danger of getting hurt or had sustained a bad injury. She paints her dad as a caring saint, while viewing her mom with slight contempt for her lack of comforting care.
From a child’s perspective, I can see where Mary’s coming from, and a traumatic encounter like that can definitely color your emotions a specific way. However, as an aunt of two young nephews, I was firmly team mom. I used to hide my emotions and troubles from my Mom as a kid because once I told her I wanted to run away, and she just started crying. I’m not sure my Mom even remembers this happening, but it is a firmly fixed memory of my childhood. After maturing into my early 20’s, my own view of my Mom completely changed. Now I tell her everything that’s on my mind, even if it might be hard for her to hear. It’s unfortunate that Mary was never able to see how much her mom loved her.
Reviewer’s Note: Spoilers in this next section, so skip ahead past the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to know any major plot points!
Mary’s mom came to America from Japan, and she desperately wanted her daughter to share in her Japanese heritage. Mary recalls her mother wanting her to learn Japanese, but Mary was utterly disinterested. Mary’s mother also worked long hours frequently, causing her to miss many family dinners and piano recitals. Mary’s house was really nice, so it was evident that her mother worked to support her family, not for personal financial gain.
I remember looking at the doors to the dining room and the beautiful and large hutch it contained thinking, “Wow, that’s super nice. It must have cost thousands of dollars.” After Mary’s dad passed away, the rift between Mary and her mother grew even larger due to their different ways of grieving. It’s a heartbreaking story with no winners, but it is incredibly thought provoking. Even though the memories are all from Mary’s point of view, there is ample room to see things from her mother’s perspective. And now my empathy trigger has gone off, and I’m trying not to cry thinking about how sad the story really is.
The graphics are simple yet beautiful. The gameplay really forces you to absorb every little detail of Mary’s memories as you look for the next progression. I thought the story was a little choppy at first, but the exploration to narrative ratio quickly evened out. The music is beautiful and haunting at times, with strong orchestral influences. The background sounds are very realistic, with sounds of waves and seagulls at the beach and soft crickets chirping at night. Sometimes, the everyday sounds of dishes clanking and a kettle whistling can be jarring. Also, the recording of the narrator’s voice is distracting at times. I’m not sure exactly how to put it into words, but some sounds are too crisp and harsh, like a recording of high shrill piano notes. Overall, it didn’t distract me too much from the story, so it’s really just minor complaints.
Though the gameplay itself is smooth and relaxing, it’s a little too direct at times. It’s a lot like putting together a puzzle. Not every second is super exciting, but the exercise itself is enjoyable and therapeutic yet also a bit of a chore at times. The story progresses by clicking on different aspects of Mary’s memories, but frequently you have to rotate the camera to find just the right angle to activate the transition. Like a puzzle, it’s not particularly difficult but takes some wiggling to get it just right.
The game is also more art than entertainment. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and thought, “that’s art, not entertainment,” or is it just me? The Road by Cormack McCarthy and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger come to mind, as well as the 2019 movie Uncut Gems staring Adam Sandler. After fully consuming the media, you just ruminate over it for days, but you don’t necessarily enjoy the experience or want to partake in it again. I hate to keep bringing up the puzzle analogy, but the game really is as fun as putting a puzzle together and has about the same playability. After completing a puzzle, you want several months if not a few years to pass before you take it out again. It’s the same with reading a book or watching a movie. Perhaps you have a favorite book or movie that you revisit every year, but you wouldn’t necessarily finish a book or watch a movie and then immediately read or watch it again the following week. It’s just a shame that the game takes about as much time to complete as watching a movie.
At $14.99, the price isn’t bad per se, but the value is markedly less than other types of games, like a puzzle. I know it sounds like I’m hating on puzzles, but I really do enjoy them. I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t approach Hindsight like other video games because if you do, you are setting yourself up for disappointment in some respects. So, know what Hindsight is and what it isn’t before you jump into it.
Overall, Hindsight earns 4 out of 5 GiN Gems. The narrative is incredibly moving and thought provoking, and the concept of examining someone’s memories is refreshing.