Melancholy defines the relationship humans have with the underwater world. We appear in their natural habitat, interact with them, and then disappear soon after. They may never see us again, and we may never see them again. All the while we pollute the seas, destroy their homes, and cause pain without making amends. We leave a much more lasting impact without ever seeing it. Loddlenaut, in a sense, is a journey of redemption, of putting in the effort to fix the mess we have made.
In this relaxing cleanup adventure developed by Moon Lagoon, your task is recycling and removing the leftovers of a failed company effort. Equipped with a laser to remove the dark substance that attached itself to the local flora, fauna, and man-made structures, as well as a boost backpack used for carrying over larger pieces, you begin by setting up a home base in one of the caves. What follows is a relatively standard affair: upgrading the tools, obtaining new ones, adding air capacity, etc.
The home cave is where you initially refill air (until you can set up rings that also serve that function) as well as recycle metals, glass, plastics, organics, and electronics. Throwing an object into the bin fills up a meter, and after it becomes full your reward is a crafting material used for upgrades. Most things are color-coded to help with the process, though I may have initially forgotten that a big gray chunk of metal goes into the red trash.
This is what I expected going in, a cozy few hours doing busywork (ended up being around four hours), surrounded by water and the serene ambient soundtrack. The pixelated aesthetic (which can be changed in the menu to either smooth graphics or even chunkier pixelization, though the default looks the best) would help me calmly drift from one area to the next, seeing life and color return to what is, in fact, an alien planet.
In that sense it delivered. The beginning may be a bit slow, but my favorite part of this game is the simple reward of getting the job done. Having the assistant deliver me the location of my next cleanup location, encountering a new type of object or difficulty to overcome, dealing with it, and admiring the effects of my work. I may not be able to remove the sunken ship from the bottom of the ocean, but I at least somewhat facilitated the process of it becoming a part of this ecosystem.
Which is why I found the re-infection mechanic to be very unsatisfying. Locations you already cleaned up will eventually have trash and goop reappear in a given area. It is not hard to find them thanks to the scanner, and I understand that water moves, bringing in objects from other parts of the ocean, but returning to certain areas only to see them infected again leaves a bit of a sour taste. It made me feel that my job is not all that meaningful—that when I leave the planet my impact will not be felt after some time passes.
Perhaps that is the point of Loddlenaut. Though you make plants spring back to life, the human impact will never truly disappear. This company tried to make something out of these resources, but instead, the employees found more joy in befriending loddles, little axolotl-like creatures. Though they talk about them very positively in the messages they wrote, they still left them with all this pollution. Your assistant initially messages you about not letting them distract you from your work but also becomes attached to these cuties over time.
But they are not wrong, these things are, by and large, a distraction from the job. Cleaning them up from goop, feeding them, and taking care of them, are all activities that go against the player’s other efforts. Making toys for them requires resources that could be used for other things, and feeding them takes time. They are a sort of busywork in a game all about other busywork.
They are undeniably cute, and there is a lot of effort put in to make them something worth investing time into. You can rename them, feeding them different things leads to them evolving differently, each has their favorite type of food you can discover. After you clear up an area you can return them to a habitat where they can feed by themselves and lay eggs, but upon returning you will find them unhappy and have to pet them all, use the toys, or have them repeat your helmet signal tunes (the most adorable interaction ever).
Loddles are seemingly supposed to be the core of the emotional attachment to this little world, but their implementation did not live up to that status for me. The goal is to ultimately leave them on their own, there is no benefit to having them follow you around or to attach yourself to any one in particular. They can be left at the home base, but I found it more satisfying to let them be free and allow them to swim with others, lay eggs, and feed on the local fauna. Especially knowing that you have to leave eventually.
Interacting with them for longer than necessary, as such, felt to me like wasting time. I wanted them to have a nice area to live in rather than having them stay in my cave where no food grows. I got even more anxious about the idea that the issues would reappear, though the soothing soundtrack calmed me down while playing. In the end, the game does not necessarily acknowledge this, instead commending you for the work you put into providing the loddles with a place to live in.
Even though this cozy simulator turned more into an existential crisis by the end, that thought did make me a bit emotional. I could not not ignore the idea that my work will prove to mean null in the coming times, but I do hope the few fellas I did interact with have a good life. Maybe cleaning up a bit and letting them go is the ultimate sign of affection, even if personally I never grew that attached to them. The growing sense of melancholy is certainly something that I will take away from Loddlenaut, even if parts of it clashed a bit too much to make for a perfectly satisfying experience.
Mateusz reviewed Loddlenaut on PC with a review code.