“Do not enter the forest”, is the message heard throughout Children of Silentown. From a first look, you’d assume the game stems around possessed children judging by those big seemingly soulless eyes, but luckily for me, a self-proclaimed wimp when it comes to any form of jumpscare, Children of Silentown instead sits comfortably in my favourite realm of Time Burton-esque spookiness. But, does Children of Silentown make some noise or does it merely whimper?
Firstly, Children of Silentown is set in a small community bordering a forbidden forest, where people seem to mysteriously disappear and despite the growing number of missing person posters, no one ever seems to try to find them. The adult townsfolk always say that the forest takes people away for not obeying the town rules, which they urge the curious children to obey. There is a strict curfew of don’t go out into the forest after dark which is when the howls and growls can be heard coming from the monsters who inhabit it. You play as Lucy, a young girl who like the other children of Silentown, is both terrified of and curious about the forest and why people are going missing. As time progresses and the disappearances hit close to home, Lucy decides to take up the investigation herself.
Children of Silentown is a point-and-click style game that is broken down into five chapters accompanied by a number of puzzles and minigames, which is where the head scratching comes into play, but we’ll delve into that later. I have to say Children of Silentown‘s story is incredibly engaging and keeps you hooked, I couldn’t put the game down. The intrigue of the narrative pulled me through some of the more frustrating parts of the game and encouraged me to explore as many nooks and crannies as I could, as I, like Lucy, wanted answers! Where are the people going? Why does no one seem to look for them? What are the monsters? These are just some of the questions that kept occupying my mind. Children of Silentown is a great title to start 2023 off with if you love a good mystery with a creepy element woven into the narrative. The story encourages exploration to uncover clues and work towards solving the mysteries through collecting and using items and also through song puzzles, which are a key part of the gameplay.
Characters are also key to hooking you into a narrative and I genuinely wanted to help Lucy uncover what was happening in Silentown, especially given that none of the adults seemed to care and the children were, understandably, afraid. Another big plus was Lucy’s adorable pet cat Squinty who was a recurring character, and as a cat lover, I greatly appreciated this. Squinty isn’t just a cute fluffball either, he also drives parts of the narrative forward! Despite the unsettling and supernatural overtones, Children of Silentown has an incredibly heartfelt and heartwarming theme towards the end and I genuinely felt that I took away valuable messages from the story. This was also quite emotional and tugged on the heartstrings, so I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a tear or two shed by the end. I also liked that there are multiple endings to Children of Silentown especially as I found that my ending was a bit vague and not the best at explaining events and the mysteries, which unfortunately left me with several questions. However, I am aware that other endings elaborate on these questions, hence why I feel like you’d understand the bigger picture and the finer details upon multiple playthroughs.
It goes without saying that the visuals leave a mark! Children of Silentown pulls off the creepy vibe flawlessly that completely matches the mystery setting. The art design is unique and quirky, bolstering a hand-drawn-like appearance which hones in on the spooky but cute vibe that is established throughout the gameplay. Sticking with the Burton-esque visuals, the character style reminded me of Coraline, which I think was due to the pale complexions and big black eyes, but fear not, there are no buttons in said eyes. Despite the hand-drawn aesthetics, Children of Silentown does not sacrifice seamless animations either, which I found worked very effectively for the style. There were no clunky, weird or buggy movements in sight! The ‘cutscenes’ are well executed too, shown by dynamic scenes or sketched snapshots with non-optional actions which all work brilliantly for the scarier scenes and also for the light-hearted ones. Despite the story and title’s emphasis on quietness, the score also impressed me. The music fit and complemented each scene or scenario very well, from the peaceful piano during exploration or playing with the other children to the tense music during the creepy or scary scenes.
Finally, we’ll take a look at the gameplay in Children of Silentown, which was more of a mixed bag. As touched on earlier, exploration is a key part of the playthrough. One part I particularly liked was collecting stickers as I am a sucker for collecting and looting items (just in games, don’t worry). The stickers are found by investigating the environment and interacting with the characters and objects. These also unlock achievements, which I found to be an added motivation as it’s an extra benefit you take away from it. That being said, I wish you could go back and collect items including stickers as once you pass certain points, especially later in the playthrough, you can no longer go back to them. There were a few times in later chapters when I remember finding an object where I needed a tool and then once I found the tool later on I forget to go back until later in the level when I may not be able to go back.
There are a variety of puzzles and minigames to solve in order to work towards your objectives and advance the game, which for the most part keep you hooked. Song puzzles are a key type as singing is a theme that flows through Children of Silentown, you unlock notes through exploration that eventually come together to produce a song which can be used to uncover clues, learn more about the characters or the forest, perform specific tasks and actions, or remove obstacles that need to be done to advance. However, I desperately wish there was a hint system in some of the song puzzles or an objective list as you have to complete them to progress, so if you are stuck it can break the immersion and momentum. I feel like this could make or break the experience for players. If you are a puzzle nut like myself, it is more of an inconvenience, but if you were more interested in the point-and-click aspect, this could be a breaking point. Fortunately, the narrative has enough intrigue to keep you pushing through. Some of the song puzzles can become a bit repetitive and there are three core types that pop up again and again. As I love a puzzle, this wasn’t so much of an issue for me, but if you fall into the aforementioned latter point-and-click camp, this could put you off. I personally preferred the sewing and light song puzzles to the cog ones, but I warmed up to them by the end of the game even if there were bumps along the way.
One pain point I did encounter was finding the peel in Chapter 3 in order to bribe one of the other children. The trouble was I thought I’d found it being held by a scarecrow in the farmer’s field but it didn’t seem to be accessible as you couldn’t walk onto the field so I naturally assumed it wasn’t the object I was looking for. Oh, how wrong was I! Turns out you CAN get onto the field, but only be accessing it at the far southern point on the edge. I spent a ridiculous amount of time wandering around the town looking and interacting with every object I could find, but no, apparently you can’t access the field any other way apart from at the bottom. This is when a hint system would have been invaluable. Once again, my interest in the story and what clues I would uncover pulled me through this hurdle.
Overall, I became completely invested in Children of Silentown and the story which took twists and turns I didn’t expect. The art design is quirky and charming, with the music amplifying each scene. I feel like any time you can take a meaningful lesson away from a story, is one excellently executed, and Children of Silentown did this mostly well even if some questions were left unanswered in my ending. The intrigue in the narrative is enough to pull you through hurdles, puzzles and other points where you may feel inclined to put the game down.
Holly played Children of Silentown on Xbox One with a review code. Children of Silentown is also available on Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC and Nintendo Switch.