We’re currently undergoing a blast to the past in pop culture, retro is now ‘in’ and we’re seeing it everywhere from TV shows and movie settings to fashion and trending music. The hit show, Stranger Things, has been one of the most notable contenders in this trend, being set in the 1980s. But we’ve also seen examples from season 3 of Sex Education which, despite being set in the modern day, draws inspiration from 1980s and 70s settings. We can see the retro look by even just walking down the street; skinny jeans are out, flares and straight legs are in.

Epic Llama Games’ Unusual Findings, published by ESDigital Games, is the latest addition to this trend, and is a coming-of-age Sci-Fi story inspired by 1980s classics such as The Goonies, The Explorers, Monster Squad, The Lost Boys, They Live, Terminator, and Aliens. Set in the 1980s, Unusual Findings is a point-and-click mystery puzzle adventure where you follow three friends, Vinny, Nick and Tony, as they uncover the mystery behind an alien invasion one fateful night.

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When the gang discover a robotic alien slaughtering a ranger, they decide to form a trap in hopes of catching the creature.

Unusual Findings is described as a ‘love letter’ to the 1980s and 1990s and that’s clear to see from the get go. Not only is the game tastefully rendered in 16-bit pixel art, but it also has an impressive soundtrack that features a Synthwave-style score composed by Tomas Ferrero and some licensed music too such as You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive, and of course it’s chock full of pop culture references.

We start the story off in Vinny’s bedroom. He’s been grounded after a backyard science experiment went wrong and blew up a neighbour’s front lawn. Nick speaks to Vinny from the treehouse outside his window to inform him that Tony has picked up a new cable signal descrambler which will give them free access to a pay per view adult channel. Eager to see some ‘hot babes’, we must use the resources available in Vinny’s room to work out an exit. At Tony’s, when the trio uses the cable signal descrambler, they accidentally pick up a distress call from an alien spaceship which soon crash lands in the woods nearby. They head over there to investigate, and encounter a tall, robotic alien which quickly kills a ranger right in front of them before vanishing. The gang decide to form a trap in order to catch the alien.

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There’s something bigger going on around this alien sighting, and it’s up to the gang to find out the truth.

Unusual Findings’ gameplay consists of searching the area and interacting with NPCs in order to gather information and useful items. Your interaction options are See, Grab and Talk, which you can perform on both objects and NPCs (in terms of NPCs, ‘Grab’ is usually swapped out for ‘Punch’). You can also combine inventory items and examine them for a description. There’ll be a world map in each level for you to explore various areas for clues and puzzle items. Each puzzle usually consists of getting access to items to fix something, unlocking something or helping someone, most of which will contribute to the area’s overarching objective. For example, on one level you find yourself in a secret base, with your key objective being to fix the building’s underground transport network to escape. When finding the items you need to fix the train, you’ll encounter multiple scenarios that you’ll need to solve in order to gradually reach these items. It’s like a spider web with the centre being your main objective. You need a key for the train, but the key is locked in a cell with a prisoner, so you need to find some way to trick the fingerprint scanner into opening the cell door and so on. There are also some optional puzzles in Unusual Findings, which I wasn’t aware of until I had finished it.

As an adventure game, you can solve some puzzles in various ways which will alter your inventory later on in the game, making it differ to other players’ experiences. Vinny’s relationship with his friends will also be impacted by your dialogue choices. In total, Unusual Findings has three different ending outcomes as a result of these decisions. This makes it great for replayability, and I already want to try the game out again to discover other ways to solve puzzles and also unlock the different endings. I’ve already seen multiple walkthroughs on YouTube which had a completely different experience to me, with some events not happening or some new ones popping up. This is an adventure puzzle game where your decisions really do matter.

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The walkthroughs on YouTube were a real eye-opener to how different Unusual Findings will play out depending on your decisions.

That being said, I do feel like the dialogue options could do with some work. When talking to an NPC, you’ll be given a variety of questions to ask, which is fine. But your interactions with your best friends are usually where the story-altering choices come in. You’ll often be given the choice between two replies, one being so much obviously nicer than the other that it really doesn’t make the decision very difficult. Considering these conversations have an impact on the story outcome of the game, I feel like we should be given a third option, or at least make it a bit less black and white than being the nice guy or a complete asshole to your friends.

Unusual Findings both looks and sounds great. The pixel art really fits in with the retro vibe of the game and the original soundtrack is really well done too. Not only is it varied enough that it doesn’t grow tiring, but it’s also incredibly catchy and I found myself often bobbing my head to the tune while puzzle solving. I did feel that the dialogue could be quite awkward at times. Not only is the sound editing a little choppy with some responses sounding like they’ve been cut off from a full sentence, but sometimes the line delivery felt off, especially with the main character, Vinny. Though I’m unsure whether this is the script or the voice acting itself. Despite this, the other voice actors did a great job, and the dialogue had plenty of funny moments that made me chuckle, especially with the sneaky adult humour.

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Unusual Findings has plenty of adult humour.

Unusual Findings is a light-hearted, feel good game which doesn’t really delve into any dark story moments or topics (it doesn’t need to). Even the more gruesome aspects of the game are skimmed over by the teens’ laid back attitutude as they blow up aliens and pick up a dismembered hand off the floor to use on a fingerprint scanner. Some of the story moments can be silly, but Unusual Findings doesn’t take itself too seriously and this all adds to its charm and makes it a joy to play.

A pleasant surprise from Unusual Findings was how difficult the puzzles could be. Sometimes, the solution to a problem can be found by talking to NPCs. For example, you’ll encounter a kid in a park who’s on a sugar high from drinking too many fizzy drink cans, during one of his rambles, he’ll tell you a neat trick on getting an advantage on an arcade game, which will come in handy later on when you’re trying to access an abandoned factory which is operated by a teenage goth gang, and you find one of its members struggling with this very same arcade game. This means that talking to every NPC is essential, though this won’t be a problem most of the time as there are some interesting characters to meet. On top of this, the puzzles can sometimes require a lot of thinking outside the box. In the segment where you’re trying to escape the secret base, you need a battery to start the building’s underground train. I was stuck for options here as I couldn’t find a battery anywhere, but by talking to Tony, he suggested that they could make a battery, so I did some research online and found that I had already started collecting the ingredients needed for a homemade battery.

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A lot of the puzzles in Unusual Findings require some thinking outside of the box.

For the overwhelming majority of the game, I never found the puzzles to be unfair or so much outside the box that they were impossible to eventually figure out with some hard thinking. However, there was one occurrence where I found that the puzzle’s solution was a bit annoying. In one segment of Unusual Findings, you need some wire cutters, which happen to be a prize in the arcade. You can get tickets by challenging the local ‘Street Puncher’ (Street Fighter) competitive team to a tournament. Disappointingly, we’re not actually playing Street Puncher, but the puzzle instead consists of allowing the opposition team to pick their character (which is randomised each time), and then picking the character that can defeat the one they have chosen. This consists of a lot of trial and error, and actually just pure luck. The idea is (unless there is an easier solution that I’m unaware of) to play the game multiple times, noting down which characters won against what opponent and which lost, and then eventually getting it right three times in a row to win the tournament. The luck part came in when I eventually won the tournament just because the opposing team chose the same character three times in a row, if this hadn’t happened then it would have taken me far longer to win. Not only was it annoying to keep having to go through this again and again, but the fact that it just came down to luck in the end made it not only frustrating, but also unfair*.

Another criticism with Unusual Findings was concerning the actual point-and-click elements. Like most point-and-click games, you point and click on an area on the screen to move around. The only problem with this in Unusual Findings is that there’s so many interactable objects on the screen that it can sometimes be difficult to find a spot to click on which will just move Vinny rather than interact with an object. This is especially evident on the street areas where there are larger objects to interact with such as cars and buildings, which made moving around these sections quite awkward.

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Just moving around in Unusual Findings can be an awkward task of finding a free spot on the screen to click on without interacting with an object.

Overall, Unusual Findings was a lot of fun and is definitely a 2022 indie gem. Its puzzles are well thought out and brought a fun challenge. The huge amount of differences in the puzzles and storyline depending on your choices and actions make it very replayable. Although the story line isn’t exactly in depth or complex, it’s perfect for that 1980s action film feel and so is the light-hearted dialogue which is filled with teen humour and pop culture references.

*Since publishing the review, I have been advised that the easiest way to solve this puzzle is to be the first to pick the character for the first few tries, as the opposing team will always pick the character that can defeat your choice. And then once you have learned all the winning combinations, you can leave it up to them to select their character first and then you can select an opponent that will defeat them.

Jess played Unusual Findings on PlayStation 5 with a review code. Unusual Findings is also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

 

 

 

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Dan Man
Dan Man
3 months ago

Amazing game, the puzzles are so well thought out. Logical but never frustrating or holding your hand … Alas like with so many great point and click adventure game nowadays it’s getting very little attention. Return of Monkey Island excluded (which Unusual Findings excels on nearly every level) …

Saw one review which gave the game a 5.7 and said the reviewer stopped after 6 hours because (s)he couldn’t figure out the puzzles. This is completely unfathomable to me. Either I already played so many point and click adventures and growing up loving them gave me an advantage or the younger generation just hasn’t the patience anymore for those kind of games.

For nearly every puzzle there always was a clue when you talked to characters or inspected your inventory or the environment. That’s why for me, the puzzles were bordering on perfect – You just have to pay attention while playing. But I guess today people prefer choose your own adventure style games where the “hardest puzzles” are a to find a letter and bring it to an NPC or a choice between three dialogue options …

Still, wish more of those indie gems would hit the market. There are enough roguelites and shooters as it is … Well, one can dream

Jess
Jess
3 months ago
Reply to  Dan Man

I totally agree! Even if I was completely stuck, I often figured out the solution by just going back and repeating my conversations with NPCs. I love how the answer was always there somewhere if you looked hard enough.