A Lonely Child
Childhood trauma and dysfunctional families aren't newly explored topics within gaming. The manner in how they're executed tends to be more the defining factor between each title. How they land on an emotional front is also an important thing that I'm sure developer would bear in mind. Little Miss Lonely by London based studio Club Cotton Games delivers a relatively well-crafted balance of relatable incidents and emotional journeys throughout it's, on average, forty-five minutes of playtime.
The game opens on an evening where Robin, the nine-year-old protagonist is being babysat. Upstairs in her bedroom the first scene see's her looking for her 'best friend' Monty. Monty is her, no doubt favourite, stuffed toy. Upon finding him we are free to leave and have her explore the house. One of the first things I thought of when manoeuvring her around a number of the different rooms was how it reminded me a little of Gone Home. A young lady, or in this case, girl, wandering and being reminded of bygone times from encountering inanimate objects in her family home. The difference being that here, it felt a lot more appropriate. The character is emotionally lost and this causes her to pay more than a passing interest in, for instance, the vacuum cleaner. Her mind attempting to evoke memories of happier or even just different times to the present.
The art style and animation are not just impactful at first glance but do a great job in conveying a juvenile mindset and keeping us in it throughout. Reminding me slightly of This war of mine the pencil sketch theme works well in an artistic manner and also acts very effectively in regards to how the characters are animated. Robin is presented as somewhat of a half finished sketching. The circles we usually see within 'in progress' drawing's are still present and serve as a paper puppet style hinge to which Robin's limbs use to move. I also found it interesting that for the vast majority of the game, Robin remains in what appear to be her bed clothes and slippers. Bed time as a child was usually a lonely time and that, for me, added another edge of vulnerability to her. All of the speech bubbles are presented as torn pieces of paper with the dialogue text written in a typical, school-like modern manuscript style of handwriting. Although the game does contain speech, the written dialogue is needed as all of the spoken character lines are played backward. Although this wasn't jarring, I didn't find it particularly effective either. Perhaps it's supposed to add to the bleakness and isolation, not unlike the vignette style lighting effect. The developer themselves explain that with the lighting, they wanted to create the sense of a torch being shone through a sheet of paper. This also gives a somewhat dreamlike and avant-garde feel to the piece.
Little Miss Lonely takes us on a mildly emotional journey through parts of childhood that the majority of us can recall. The meanness of other kids on the playground, our favourite TV show and hospital visits to comfort a loved one. One of the most prominent moments being 'those times' where we sat at the top of the stairs or on the landing, listening in on what was being said downstairs and sometimes trying to piece together why, so. Not everyone will have been subject to some of the family hardships that Robin encounters, but can still understand the emotional impact of them nonetheless. The main reason for me describing the journey as 'mildly' emotional is a thankful one. It's sometimes easy I feel, for developers to grasp at the heart strings of a player all too rigorously in an effort to have their piece of work come off as 'powerful'. The 'evocative' game's version of a cheap jump scare. It was a relief that a lot of the more profound issues were told in a more simple and inferred manner. The stylised nature and certainly the score contribute well to the undulating bleakness of the game. This allows the narrative to keep things moving pretty effortlessly. In regards to the score, we have some light and melancholy string-like tunes to accompany us from start to finish. All of them, being both pleasant and slightly unnerving in all the right places.
As far as walking simulators go, Little Miss Lonely is certainly worthy of your time. More of an explanation on the keyboard controls wouldn't have gone amiss; standard 'A' and 'D' with 'E' to interact. Although very straightforward, I started with the feeling that I'd need to use the mouse as the cursor was still present over a dialogue box. I ended up clicking around the screen for a minute or so thinking the thing had crashed. Depending on how you like your stories told, some may find the presentation of such, a little too abstract in places. I personally didn't mind but it can come off very bizarre every now and again. That oddness is actually something that leaves me with a slight hankering to play through it again. I'm not saying that there are necessarily different outcomes, but how a scene played out at the end led me to believe that I could have done things a little differently. Either way, branching narratives and the such, aren't the reason I picked up the game in the first place and I wasn't disappointed. Little Miss Lonely is a great little game that'll take most of us down memory lane in a sometimes sad manner, but not one that'll leave us blubbering away unnecessarily.
Little Miss Lonely is available now on multiple distribution platforms including itch.io for $3.00