Game review: Last Day of June – exploration of tragedy through multiverse theory
Taking the role of a man who was paralysed and whose wife was killed in a car crash, players create alternative realities to change the events that led to the accident. This game is best played in as few sessions as possible for best effect
Last Day of June
The multiverse theory, where parallel realities exist alongside ours and events play out differently in each, is a popular theme in entertainment. Last Day of June is among the most recent examples, a sentimental work that follows a humble man’s quest to alter the course that leads to the death of his wife, June.
On a sunny day in a tiny village, a boy looks for a playmate, a man goes hunting for a bird, and an old man delivers a gift to the home of a married couple where a woman also pays a house call. This web of interactions sets the stage for June and her husband Carl to go on a picnic at their favourite lakeside spot. The area is the subject of one of June’s paintings inspired by village life.
The weather changes, they jump in their car and Carl loses control of the vehicle on the wet road; June is killed, and Carl is paralysed from the waist down.
After the accident, we find Carl in an easy chair next to another empty one. It’s night, and the only light in the house comes from the fireplace. After Carl awakens from an uneasy dream, he moves into a wheelchair. Guiding him around the ground level, players come upon a room that June used for her studio. With the tap of a button, Carl can touch a painting and be drawn into one of his neighbour’s lives.
By taking on the role of Carl’s neighbour, players try to change the sequence of events that lead to the accident. Puzzles in the game are tailored to each character so there are places, for instance, that only the boy can fit through.
As players progress, they gain insight into the motivations of the characters and variables surrounding the accident. The most interesting aspect of the puzzle design is that players have to switch variables back and forth, mixing different event states, to follow the narrative to its conclusion.
Visually and thematically the game embraces warm abstractions. The bobble-headed characters have neither eyes nor mouths, and they speak in gibberish, but their emotional intonations are easily discernible.
In this colourful, artificial world we don’t miss the explanation of why June’s paintings are imbued with such power. Yet because this is an emotionally driven game, the lack of direction for a few of the puzzles is a questionable design decision.
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When going through the hunter’s quest line, I worked out the general solution to a couple of the puzzles, but because I didn’t follow a specific set of steps, I thought I had got it wrong. It is possible to look up the solutions online, but I wish there was an in-game hint prompt so I didn’t have to run around the town or disengage with it altogether. It’s just a quibble, but this game is best experienced in as few sessions as possible to maximise its impact.
So, while Last Day of June’s narrative flow is slightly undermined because players can spin their wheels looking for puzzle solutions, it is, on the whole, a small, vibrant game that reminds us that everyone is filled with depths that belie the selves we present to the world. And any game that turns a wheelchair-bound man into a hero while poking a bit of gentle fun at a guy running around with a gun is a game I can get behind.