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This week, Yahtzee reviews The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories.

Transcript Edit

So I think we should call these last two weeks something; something like "Games by Auteur Developers whose Titles I Had to Double-Check to Make Sure I'd Written Them Down Properly Fortnight", or perhaps we could just call it "Not Finished with Red Dead Redemption 2 Yet Week". But I was interested to play, deep breath... The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories because it was a new game by SWERY, he of Deadly Premonition and, lately, of D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die. Yeah, you remember that; that episodic game with Kinect controls and the cat that was a sexy woman. Although, I'm not sure we can technically call it "episodic", because the prerequisite for an episodic game is that it has to have some fucking episodes come out; guess it did turn out pretty overoptimistic to call it "Season 1", eh, SWERY? Still, lesson's learned, so this time, SWERY's decided to make an indie 2D platformer. Blimey, not so much "scaling back" as "completely descaling, gutting, and selling to a fishmonger".

J.J. Macfield and The Island of Doctor Moreau is SWERY's take on the genre of "arty, 2D, scary-world, keep-moving-right-until-we-tell-you-to-stop indie platform games", as epitomized by the likes of Limbo and Inside, except instead of a small child with a big head, you're a schoolgirl with a stupid hairdo, because it's a Japanese developer, I guess. Japan has this weird thing... named SWERY-- Sorry, I couldn't resist. Japan has this weird thing where every imaginable theme and genre of fiction has to be explored through the medium of "schoolgirl". Horror, comedy, giant robots, porn, detective drama, bullet hell shooter, porn again; you name it, Japan's got a schoolgirl version. I can't think of any equivalent for this in any other country; it'd be like if every kind of game or TV show made in Canada had a version with Mounties in it.

But I know what you're thinking, interested viewer: "Japanese schoolgirls? Arty keep-moving-right platformer? This sounds all rather by-the-numbers, and not at all like the imagination that brought us Sexy-Lady-Who-is-a-Cat!" Well, don't worry; J.J. Macfield and the Chamber of Secrets certainly has SWERY's unique blend of warped Americana, inconsistent emotional tone, and sudden hideous violence.

At the beginning of the game, the main character is struck by lightning and dies, and then, under the supervision of a moose in a lab coat, must slowly and painfully regenerate with a noise like my dad eating lobster before descending into a fit of sobbing as the title appears and an upbeat love ballad plays. Sorry I doubted you, SWERY, you fucking lunatic! But let's contextualize this as best we fucking can; the protagonist got struck by lightning while searching for her missing girlfriend who she went camping with on the titular island and, after acquiring unexplained regeneration powers, must continue making progress rightwards, largely by inflicting a series of horrifically traumatic injuries upon her nubile, characteristically-undernourished Japanese schoolgirl body.

Remember that game, NeverDead? No, I'm not surprised you don't; came and went like a dose of the squirts, that one. It was that action shooter about an immortal bloke who could lose all his limbs and his torso and keep fighting. I remember saying at the time that the concept didn't work very well in an action game because however unmoved a person might be by the loss of all their arms and legs, it's only making it exponentially harder to turn the situation around, but it might work with something puzzle-y, or explorative; doing the Samus Aran Morph Ball trick, but with severed heads.

J.J. Macfield and the Nibble-Nobble Noo-Noo is basically what I meant: you put yourself into states known only to the furtive night terrors of air crash investigators to access specific areas and solve puzzles. So as well as flinging body parts onto things for justifiable reasons, probably, there are puzzles where J.J. needs to transfer fire to something, so of course, she sets herself alight; she's in a forest full of dried twigs, but hey, if you've got regeneration powers... It's like when you buy a really expensive pizza cutter, but you don't eat pizza that often, so you start using it on sandwiches.

Also, you can subject her to particularly hideous spine-mangling injuries to make the world turn upside-down. Now, it's not that that doesn't make 100% perfect sense, nor the constant bone-splintering sound effects like she's trying to talk through a mouthful of dice; it's that these basic processes are always drawn out so long that the game moves at a very sluggish pace. You've got to mangle and un-mangle yourself over and over again for the puzzles, and un-mangling always takes about half an hour of extreme self-chiropracty. And when you are mangled, you can only move at a snail's pace, falling over every two steps and banging your head on the floor; it was only funny the first 19 or 20 times. But don't take my word for the game being too slow, because after you finish the game, you unlock "Double Speed Mode", which means that it was considered a reward. Ooh, you were this close to a revelation there, weren't you, SWERY? "My game's more fun when you play it at double-speed? It'll have to be a super-special bonus unlock, then!"

The puzzles are straightforward enough; there was one at a bowling alley that I didn't like much, 'cos it used somewhat arbitrary logic that didn't even involve maiming myself. But let's stop picking at the sprouts and jam our fork right down the middle of this Beef Wellington. J.J. Macfield and the Hendersons is an arty game, and there's a tendency in video game discussion, I think, for the conversation to abruptly end at that point. "Oh, this game's a bit surreal and inscrutable? That's because it's an 'arty game'." "Oh, well that explains it." But isn't art supposed to be about conveying a specific idea, or message? The message of J.J. Macfield and The Thing on the Doorstep feels confused; SWERY lays some cards on the table right at the start with a little opening text saying something like, "No one should feel bad for being who they are! I'm SWERY, and I'm one of the good ones!", and that, plus the fact we're searching for our girlfriend, makes me think it's a metaphor for coming to terms with your sexuality. But in that case, what's all the "tearing all your arms and legs off" business about? Is that a metaphor for scissoring during that time of the m-- That was the new worst thing I've ever written.

Maybe it's not so much the injuries as the regeneration that's the point; oh, sure, love feels painful now, while you're young, but soon you'll realize how superficial it all was after you grow up and become dead inside like the rest of us. But what does the stabby-chase-monster represent? Societal disapproval? Self-loathing? How much we hate waiting for a hairdresser appointment? Probably the second one, 'cos in one of SWERY's trademark massively-inappropriate lurching shifts of tone, we also bring in teen suicide, and then at the very end, something happens that makes me think - And here, I'm going to spoil something, so if you don't want to hear it, mute the video or cover your ears! Quick, quick! Here it comes! - it might have been about transgenderism all along.

I think the presentation confuses the message somewhat; it turns into a sort of Rorschach test of an arty game. SWERY approaches the themes the same way he approaches Americana: as an outsider with a possibly overly-romantic view of the subject. Well, I don't know much about SWERY personally; I'm assuming he's not a suicidal teenage lesbian. "Maybe he identifies as one, Yahtz! Don't be oppressive!" How dare you oppress me! I identify as someone who isn't oppressive!

Addenda Edit

  • Don't get me started on camping holidays: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Obviously as a straight dude I can't say the game won't speak to someone who has issues with sexual identity or privately dreams about ripping their own legs off
  • Love means never having to cut your eyes out with scissors

Screenshots Edit

ZP - JJ Macfield screenshot 1

Japan has this weird thing... named SWERY-- Sorry, I couldn't resist.

ZP - JJ Macfield screenshot 2

She's in a forest full of dried twigs, but hey, if you've got regeneration powers...

ZP - JJ Macfield screenshot 3

Is that a metaphor for scissoring during that time of the m-- That was the new worst thing I've ever written!

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2 · We Happy Few · Unavowed · Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight · Shenmue · Marvel's Spider-Man · Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw
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