STAFF REVIEW of Unusual Findings (Xbox One)

Monday, October 31, 2022.
by Peggy Doyle

Unusual Findings Box art When I first saw the trailer for the point-and-click puzzle game called Unusual Findings from Epic Llama, I was hooked. As a fan of Stranger Things (and a child of the 80's) this ticked off all the nostalgia boxes to draw me in. It’s Christmas in the 1980’s. Vinny, Nick and Tony are best friends who sneak out to meet up and use a signal descrambler to watch Pay-Per-View adult movies. Or at least they are hoping to. When they turn on the descrambler, however, they pick up a strange alien signal just before a mysterious object crashes from the sky into the nearby woods. Upon reaching the woods they are confronted by a park ranger who immediately gets killed by a giant robotic alien. The boys run away but decide to find a way to stop the alien from doing any more harm to their community of Southplanes. They create a group known as the Mystery Stalkers and jump on their bikes to solve the mystery.

Gameplay in Unusual Findings is mechanically simple. Your overview is a map where you pick a location, street, shop, woods, military base etc when you start any scene, it’s always a side scroll. You click on the screen to move you and your friends through the scene. This would be easier if you could move in a straight line across the entire screen but that is rare to do. Normally there is an object that you have to move around. This might be a car, trash can, shopping cart, door etc. Throughout each scene there will be multiple objects to interact with. You can tell if you can interact with an object when you hover over it, as the reticle will turn from white to red. Each item will have options like ‘interact’, ‘talk to’ or ‘look at’.

If you are able to talk to someone you will be presented with multiple dialogue options. You can choose what to say and in what order. There are some interactions that will affect parts of the story, and there are three separate endings you can get. You will need to keep talking to the person until you figure out the information you need from them. After you get the info you need, you will get a ‘bye’ as part of the dialogue options. One frustrating thing about the dialogue though, is if you solve whatever you are there to find out, the other options will disappear. This means you don’t always have all the info you need to know where to go next. If you exit the scene and come back, you still can’t get any additional info either.

Point-and-click games often have a tough time translating to controller use with consoles, and Unusual Findings is no different. I was often frustrated trying to get things to line up properly. Speaking of puzzles, this is the main part of the game. It was a highlight and also a frustration. You spend a lot of time jumping around the map trying to find something you need to trade, barter, fix, combine, gift etc. As with most point-and-click puzzle games, there is no hand holding here. The only real assistance you get is the end goal of the current puzzle. For example, your first task is to make a trap to catch the alien. You aren’t told how to do this, so you have to pop around to different areas looking for something to make the trap.

I found a lot of the puzzles very convoluted, and I spent far too much time trying to figure out where I went wrong, what I missed, or where didn’t I look for something. Eventually I just took to dissecting each scene painfully, trying to gather everything I could, determined to not have to backtrack as much. This worked for me in some instances, but I others I simply found myself just taking everything out of my inventory one at a time and trying things to see what would work. A lot of time I could see what I needed to do, but just had no idea how to do it. One example of this was the following sequence; You need an ID card, but in order to get that you need to trade a comic, which you get from swapping an old video game cartridge that you had in your bedroom at the start of the game. You will also have to combine items to create new usable items or make solutions in the lab you get to later in the game.

Another time you had to beat a group of kids at an arcade game similar to Street Fighter (called Street Puncher in the Unusual Findings) to get their tickets to swap for a set of bolt cutters. In order to beat them, you need to win three matches in a row. There is no way to know how to beat this without playing over and over until you eventually get it. Incredibly time consuming. The game also replies on a lot of moon logic, in my opinion as well. A moon logic puzzle is a puzzle that is solved, not by logic, but by some obtuse form of thinking that seems entirely counter-intuitive.

Besides the frustrations I had with the gameplay, I found the story compelling and extremely well written. The dialogue was witty, and reminiscent of the way my friends and I talked in the 80's. It’s pure nostalgia that you’d find in any of the movies or TV shows of the era. There are so many Easter Eggs and nods to classic pop culture. Taking some liberties and to avoid Trademark infringement I’m sure, you get the 80's IPs of “Galaxy Wars”, “Ponies”, “The Amazing Arachnodude”, “SuperSam” and many others. There are clear nods to “Terminator”, “The Goonies” and other classic movies of the 80's as well. You’ll also see classic tech from the era, like a Commodore 64 and VHS among them.

Although the dialogue was well written, the voice acting felt a bit strained and unnatural. There were a few times that the words were pronounced entirely incorrect, making it feel like the voice actors were reading from their script and didn’t do much in the way of multiple takes. The rest of the acting felt a bit stiff but considering a lot of TV shows of the era also feel stiff looking back on them, perhaps this was a creative choice.

As expected with a game set firmly in the 80's, the graphics are a nostalgic retro pixelated masterpiece. You could have been looking at your favourite game of the decade. I would have liked to have had to option to change some of the contrast for colours though as I found certain areas quite difficult to determine objects to interact with vs the background environments. By far the best part of Unusual Findings was the soundtrack. This is often the case with Indie games and being from the 80's this had enough classic music to have me dancing in my chair. One of the first songs you hear in the game (as well as the trailer) is the classic ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’ by Dead of Alive. The ambient music was a perfect compliment as well.

I had high hopes for Unusual Findings. The concept, graphics and overall aesthetic really captured my attention when I first saw the trailer and I was excited to play it. It has a promising premise, but the convoluted puzzles just didn’t keep me invested or engaged as I had hoped. I consider myself to be quite smart and good at puzzles, but at times I felt dumb playing this. If you are not good at critical thinking games, you will have a tough time with this. However, the witty writing and pure throwback to my youth with the music, clothes, décor, and pop culture references has to pull on my heart a bit. Unusual Findings may not be perfect, but any fan of the genre or 80's should take a trip to Southplanes and see where the story takes them.

*Unusual Findings was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X*

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.5 / 10


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