I’ve grown quite a fondness for point-and-click adventure games over the past year. In large part thanks to one of my girlfriends, with whom I played Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle for the first time in April of 2016, which I wrote about here.

Since then, together we’ve played The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, and Sam and Max Hit the Road, in what was, in a sense, our very own romantic LucasArts binge. Suffice to say I’m well and truly hooked on the genre.

Which brings us onto Milkmaid of the Milky Way, a game I first acquainted myself with at EGX Rezzed 2017. It’s a point-and-click adventure game developed by Mattis Folkestad, that follows the journey of a 1920’s Norwegian milkmaid named Ruth as she tries to save her cows from an alien spaceship, a whimsically-ridiculous concept reminiscent of the premises of a lot of classic LucasArts adventure games.

And it’s an influence that Milkmaid wears on its sleeve, something I found to be especially evident while having many of the LucasArts classics fresh in my mind. In an interview I did with Folkestad at Rezzed, he told me that he “grew up playing old LucasArts adventure games…Monkey Island, and Loom, and all the classics that are really close to my heart.” This, with the added knowledge that Folkestad developed the game for over two years in his free time while working a full-time job, makes it very clear that Milkmaid is a passion project.

And that passion is present throughout the whole experience.

The first distinct–and rather unique–feature of Milkmaid is that all of the dialogue, as well as Ruth’s inner-thoughts, are told in rhyming couplets. On the surface this is cutesy, but it’s this narrative decision that served to enhance the fairytale-esque nature of the game’s plot. It’s also downright impressive; Milkmaid may be a short game, but the fact that this rhyming couplet storytelling remains consistent without ever growing stagnant, and in three separate languages (English, French and Norwegian) no less, is quite the feat.

 

The starting area of Milkmaid serves as a good tutorial zone to get players who might not necessarily be acquainted with the left-field puzzle solving associated with point-and-click games a basic run-down of how it all works, but simultaneously doesn’t feel patronizing to connoisseurs of the genre. Tasks like bringing wet firewood up to the tip of a mountain to dry it off after finding flowers that had turned crisp and stale from being left there are relatively simple puzzles to decipher, while also refraining from being blatantly signposted.

Rather than a multi-verb mechanic found in the likes of the SCUMM engine, Milkmaid opts to use a simpler single-click for environmental interaction, and drag-and-drop for item use. This reduces the risk of players struggling to process egregiously-complex actions and processes necessary in some classic adventure games, but also limits some of the subtler nuances possible in a verb-based system.

A specific mechanic that I particularly enjoyed in Milkmaid was the age transferal machine. You discover after making it onto the spaceship that an evil queen keeps control over the population by using a device to steal their youth for herself. You use this device multiple times throughout the experience, and figuring out what to age and what to give youth is a really fun challenge that fits in nicely with everything else.

What really sets Milkmaid apart from its predecessors is also the difficulty of its puzzles: as much as I adored Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle, there were some puzzles that had such elaborately contrived solutions that it would have taken me months to accomplish, were it not for my girlfriend serving as my guide for hints. I finished Milkmaid in five hours. Its puzzles aren’t nearly as obtuse, but still retain a level of absurdity and challenge that retains the general feel of the old LucasArts adventure games.

But at the same time… I can’t help but hold a soft spot in my heart for the very obtusity of those classic puzzles. Yes, they were Rube Goldberg machines with the farthest-reaching interpretations of logic that you’d ever know, but that was part of their beauty: observing all of the intricate elements of this large and muddled mystery, seeing how they led to the solution, and appreciating how absolutely ridiculous it all was. But there’s definitely a situation of compromise with Milkmaid: the less convoluted puzzles means you don’t get that same feeling, but it makes it a much more accessible experience.

Something indisputable is how gorgeous Milkmaid is. The sprites are drawn in a pixel art style, but all of the backgrounds have been hand-painted with pastel colours. It’s this fusion of a retro-inspired aesthetic following suit with its inspiration, and the possibilities present with improved technology like painted backgrounds and detailed particle effects, all accompanied by a gentle and melodic soundtrack, that creates a captivating aesthetic suited to the narrative.

And the pacing of that narrative, as well as the scale in difficulty alongside it, is really well-executed. It gives you time to explore the environment and become familiar with its characters, like the anxious seamstress and her son, the engineer protective of his tools, and Ruth’s favourite cow Lykke. But it does this without dragging out the experience, and at no point does it feel trickier than it should be for what point you’re at in the game. (Though there was one puzzle involving a frog that I had immense difficulty in locating. The tiny little bugger.)

Milkmaid of the Milky Way is a wonderful game, and one that I’d say is worthy of a place next to the great point-and-click adventure games of old. If you’re a die-hard fan of LucasArts’ classic library, or are interested in trying out a point-and-click but are worried about finding it inaccessible, then either way Milkmaid of the Milky Way will leave you feeling a great deal of joy.

Steam Link ||| £4.79 / $5.99 /  €5.99

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