STAFF REVIEW of Summertime Madness (Xbox One)

Monday, March 7, 2022.
by Peggy Doyle

Summertime Madness Box art The name Summertime Madness evokes, instantly, the thought of something that would feel like a musical number out of the movie Grease. Young friends and couples dancing away with no cares in the world. Despite the few screenshots filled with happy pastel-coloured scenes of flowers and trees, the game Summertime Madness was anything but light and carefree. The game involves World War II, a deal made with the Devil, a group of obscure almost unsolvable puzzles based on surrealism and a really odd and bizarre post credit message that has left me wondering how to capture my feelings about this indie game.

Summertime Madness is a single-player first-person puzzle game. It starts off with a fully voiced intro cutscene giving you the plot that is extremely well done. The opening of the game says ‘Prague, 1945’, giving an immediate indication that we are in for something darker than first thought. We see an artist painting beautiful landscapes, likely trying to escape the dismal conditions around him. Suddenly a man in top hat, complete with ‘bad guy’ moustache appears and offers a deal to the artist. He can go spend time inside his paintings (and be far away from the War) as long as he can find an exit before midnight. Failure to do so means he would be stuck there forever. Seeing what he has painted, versus what would have been happening, I’m not sure I would have wanted to leave the idyllic landscapes, but he makes the deal and is launched into the first painting. After the initial scene with the painter and the ‘Devil’, you’re given an option as to how you want to play, either with a 3 or 6-hour time limit to challenge you, or with no time limit. Your eyes open and you are now the Artist. For a puzzle game there is a lot of walking. I am guessing this is because it’s meant to be a peaceful experience. But if that’s the case, why give players a time limit?

Summertime Madness is a game full of puzzles, labyrinths and mazes that is overly complicated and has no real direction. You can see glimpses inside the artists mind, but they never really become anything other than more confusion in my view. The puzzles involved a lot of running back and forth, levers, switches and backtracking. They didn’t feel like they were well thought out or organized though. There are moments of genius, but they get bogged down in the overly complicated puzzles. Clearly this wasn’t just an issue I had, based on the number of ‘Thank yous’ on multiple YouTube videos showing solutions.

One maze/puzzle puts you in an abandoned city where you need to pass through three gates to get to a staircase to the top of the world. Simple enough. But in order to get to the staircase you need to pass tough a series of doors. In order to get through the doors to have to find and switch levers throughout the city. As you pull a lever, one door opens, the other closes. Trying to decipher which opened and closed isn’t an easy task as it’s not really easy to see where they are located in comparison to you or the lever you pulled. Besides that, there are some that can only be opened or closed after you’ve flipped an hourglass to switch from day to night or vice versa. I spent close to an hour trying to figure that one out and had to restart. Again, thank you YouTube.

Between the mazes and puzzles, there are also collectibles tied to achievements, butterflies, fireflies, musical instruments and even graffiti saying ‘Emilia’ (more on that later).

Ultimately, I found Summertime Madness tiring. It favoured style over substance and lacked a really clear story, at least one that I could follow. It had moments of beauty and some of the puzzles were smart. The feeling of the art gallery could have been meaningful but I got lost the more I twisted and turned trying to decipher what to do next. Instead of challenging, they felt exhausting. Most puzzles or mazes were overly long and complicated, and some of the collectibles I never would have found without help. Back away from the statue until it’s barely visible, then turn 180 degrees and walk towards the faint light until you see a door. Go through the door to find what you’re looking for. What?! How are you ever going to just find that?

The base of a good game is there but it was ruined by the puzzles that were poorly delivered. I really liked the premise of the game, just not the execution.

Now back to ‘Emilia’ referenced earlier and although I had already formed an opinion of this game and I have reviewed it based on my feelings about the actual game and gameplay, there is a post credit image that soured anything good I felt about Summertime Madness.

“Oh Fellow Adventurer
You have been brave enough to find out all of those “Emilia” secrets hidden on the island, congratulations!
Since You proved to be so fearless and passionate, I guess you’d like to join me in this last super difficult achievement:
Help me meet Emilia Clarke.
So, yeah...this whole game was just a smokescreen, now this is the real mission!”

It goes on. Even jokingly offering cookies for anyone’s help to meet her. This immediately didn’t feel right to me. As a woman, as a human being, and as a fan of Emilia Clarke myself. This was just not a good feeling. It didn’t sit right, and it still doesn’t sit right even weeks after playing the game. Part of me thought I was overreacting, so I posted the image from the credits, with no comment as to the game it was from, simply asking opinions on how they would feel about it. A few commented that it was funny, that he was taking a shot a meeting her. One said exactly what I was thinking, that it could have been worded differently to not come across so much like a stalker. They could have said, I’m a huge fan of Emilia Clarke and she’s been an inspiration for me... I’d love her to see this, etc. Still creepy, but less so. One said Emilia Clarke should be made aware so she can have the dev investigated. An outstanding majority agreed it felt slimy and creepy and had no place in a game.

Women are too often harassed and objectified in the gaming industry. We’re often not taken seriously in playing, competing, reviewing or writing about video games. We’re considered too emotional, not able to be objective or have the experience of being a ‘real gamer’. I’ve been gaming for over 40 years (most of my life) and been involved in many aspects of the industry for many years. This review took me a long time to write because I wasn’t sure how to express my feelings on the game and the Emilia situation without making it seem like one clouded the other.

Honestly, people may read this and think I’ve overreacted, and that’s okay. I stand by my review as being fair and critical of Summertime Madness based on notes I made while playing, not that I need to justify myself. It was important for me to acknowledge the creepy feeling this game has left with me and I’ve been really disappointed to not see any others talking about it at all. But considering I haven’t seen many reviews for the game, and most were by males, I’m not entirely surprised I would see things differently.

**Summertime Madness was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 5.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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