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Apr 27, 2023

Varney Lake Review

Lights Off
4 Awesome
Retails for: $9.99
We Recommend: $9.99
  • Developer: LCB Game Studio
  • Publisher: Chorus Worldwide Games
  • Genre: Adventure, Indie
  • Released: Apr 28, 2023
  • Platform: Windows, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Switch
  • Reviewed: Windows

Varney Lake is the second in series from “Pixel Pulps”, a franchise of games that began with last year’s Mothmen 1966 . This is a game about reflection, supernatural, and living with the choices that we make. While this is a game, it’s mainly a story driven narrative that unfolds before you in text, accompanied by its 8-bit visuals and chiptune soundtrack. Along the way you’ll have puzzles to solve or mini-games to play, but the story carries forward almost at all times. Interactive fiction, choose your own adventure, or visual novel; however you classify it, LCB Game Studios’ second game is a stroke of genius in storytelling with a striking accoutrement of visual and audio to make it unique.

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LCB Game Studio houses novelist Nico Saraintaris and artist Fernando Martinez Ruppel that provide the backbone to this experience. The game begins with a trio of friends, Jimmy, Doug, and Christine hanging out for a summer of 1954 looking for adventure and one-hundred dollars. What transpires over the course of the game puts the characters on a roller coaster of emotions, and is equally exciting for you as the player being as curious as the characters. I found that the game had a somewhat predictable outcome to the events, but I was no less thrilled. The storytelling is the best part, with time jumps to keep things interesting, and cuts at the precise moment you’re yearning for more.

Like Mothmen 1966 before it, Varney Lake is a essentially an 8-bit visual novel with decision making. It’s decidedly a different tone than the last game, tackling different subject matter but has an uncomfortable undertone with its supernatural elements. And seeing recurring characters resurface begs for you to dig deeper into the goings on, and how it all might connect. The game differs emotionally from its prior game, it also does so visually with a limited color palette dominated by greens, blues, aqua, and yellows. Animations are finite, but the way they are framed and give the right amount of detail is exemplary, and there’s a nice touch as chapters end and the pixels fade to black that work so well.

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There’s several characters you’ll cycle through across the game’s eleven chapters and roughly two hours of playtime. Varney Lake doesn’t stick to the structure or chapter limit of the last game, it goes for as long as it is needed to tell its story, but even then there’s more to do when it’s all said and done. The replayability of Varney Lake is strong with its branching story based on choices you make along the way. And it’s rousing narrative and short length make that something you aspire to do, again and again.

There’s even unlocks like a gallery and secret scenes that will drive these decisions to revisit. With double the achievements of the previous game, and even though it has the same length of gameplay, there’s simply more to work with here that make it easy to go back to.

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It’s such an expertly written game, and like any good book you’ve got dialogue that’s naturally conversational. And then you’ve got their inner monologue that gives insight more of what they’re thinking, what they didn’t say, and more who they are as characters. It’s fascinating in what short amount of time you have with them, that you get attached to each one in different ways, or how you relate to them. The game’s speech has a natural cadence, but you can fast-forward its delivery (since there’s no voicework), or outright skip to the next piece of dialogue. There’s even a log to review anything you might’ve missed or accidentally skipped something. The text is the core of the game, but it’s effective and engaging throughout.

Characters all have depth, and somehow give just the right amount of time to see what drives them and makes them tick. The fact that the game utilizes callbacks effectively, is a bonus joy for those who played the previous game in the series. Even secondary characters who have limited time on-screen or even talked about, receive concetrated moments that have you feeling for them, even if they haven’t been especially kind to primary characters. It’s evocative storytelling at its finest, and characters really shine here.

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What seems to be a staple for the series now, is that it features another solitaire game, “Solitaire Ten”. This time it has another unique ruleset, if not one that feels convoluted as if it were designed by a teenager. It’s hard at first, but a solution is cleverly given to you later if you inquire and pay enough attention. There’s also a fishing mini-game, it’s a bit simpler and is basically is a color matching game. For good measure, there’s even a Dance Dance Revolution timing game is also thrown in for good measure. They’re all fun, and help break up the moments of tension or just constant line delivery of its storytelling, allowing you to take a break from it as much or as little as you like.

This is a game that doesn’t have anything close to demanding specs, but my graphics card fans never spun its fans while playing, if that helps paint a picture. I’m happy to report that it supports 21:9 natively. It might come at a surprise, given that’s so focused on replicating a late 80s, early 90s adventure vibe, I thought for sure this would be limited in 4:3, but isn’t. It existed in the last game, and there’s a consistent visual bug where I’d pull up the menu to save my game, but unable to continue due to the background getting distorted. It’s quickly remedied by a restart of the game, and since I just saved, nothing was lost.

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There’s connective tissue between LCB Game Studios’ games, so your experience with Varney Lake will be enhanced by having played Mothmen 1966 prior to it. It’s a short story video game that doesn’t take up your time, and is a great palate cleanser from other games you’re currently playing. I’m really excited for what’s in store next, and am enjoying how these play out. Varney Lake feels like PC adventure games of old, and will take you back to those summer or rainy nights of gaming, for a truly visual and aural treat of the senses.

A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes