When I go to an art gallery or museum, I sometimes have to resist the urge to touch things. I want to know it’s like to run my hands along a twisted sculpture and feel the cool metal, or to trace my finger along ancient wooden carvings. Most enticing of all are paintings: I’ve always imagined that the texture of “Starry Night” would add another layer of depth to the viewing experience. Of course, you can’t touch precious works of art. But you can get some of that same feeling with Old Man’s Journey, which launches today on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac.
Old Man’s Journey tells the story of an elderly man who sets out on a lengthy trip of self-discovery. It opens with the man staring out to sea, before receiving a letter that causes him to don a giant backpack, grab a walking stick, and set out. The story is told entirely without words. At certain points, the man will stop and sit, and reminisce about his life. Each memory comes in the form of a still image depicting a particularly important life event; the birth of a child, for instance, or an early voyage out to sea. The wordless narrative is reminiscent of short animated films like Paperman or any number of Pixar shorts. It’s a story that’s both sweet and simple, though lacking a bit in the way of subtlety.
One of the most striking things about the game is how it looks. Each area is like a beautiful painting. You’ll come across warm orange sunsets over quaint seaside towns, and dreamy Mediterranean-inspired villages that make you want to pull up a chair and hang out at a cafe all day. For the most part the scenes are still, but with small moments of animation that brings them to life, like tall grass flowing in a strong breeze, or a cat snoozing on a park bench.
To move the old man around these scenes, you simply need to tap or click where you want him to go. But there’s an extra layer of depth to each area that’s not apparent until you start manipulating the landscape. In Old Man’s Journey, you can raise and lower hills, connect highway roads, and move underwater debris all with a touch of your finger. The goal is to create a route for the man to safely follow. Raising a mountain might connect two paths, or it might uncover a hidden area to traverse. Later on, this manipulation becomes more puzzle-y. When a series of stone walls block your path, you need to figure out how to smash them by rolling giant metal gears down a hill.
It’s never especially challenging. At no point did I find myself stuck on any given puzzle for more than a minute or two. But the interactions are playful and charming, and their tactile nature makes an otherwise simple experience feel much more engaging and meaningful. There are a handful of moments that go on a bit too long — a sequence where you’re connecting train tracks really drags, for example — but for the most part Old Man’s Journey is a concise, heartwarming story you can experience in around two hours. It’s not quite the same as feeling a Van Gogh painting with the tip of your finger, but it’s close.