There is a certain early 90s charm to A Date in the Park, even if it came out in 2015. The graphics are low resolution and they look like someone went to a local park and took pictures. Even the protagonist Lou is a real person that’s digitized and put in the game. While its obvious that these aren’t the best graphics in the world, they have a certain nostalgia to them for people like me that grew up with it.
Outside of Maniac Mansion and Shadowgate for the original Nintendo, I’m no fan of point and click games. A Date in the Park isn’t just a well designed point and click game, but its also an intriguing mystery. I say well designed, because the game’s protagonist Lou will talk to himself, giving you clues about where to go and what to do. Nothing is too cryptic, you only need to pay attention. Since this is a short game, there is a limited area that you can explore, so you won’t get lost. In fact you get a map.
You play as Lou, a man from England, visiting Portugal. The previous night, prior to the game, he met a woman named Catarina at a bar that invites him on “A Date in the Park.” That’s what you quickly learn in the game. After gaining access to the park by paying three euros, you’ll explore and really find nothing. The park is empty. You visit the duck pond that you’re supposed to meet her. There’s a mother duck and a baby. The duckling struggles to dive into the water, so as the kind hearted Lou, you help the duck in.
From there, you’ll meet a gardener. This gardener and everyone in the game only speaks Portuguese. Lou doesn’t even speak the language, but he manages just fine. The gardener seems preoccupied with something in the shrubbery. If you leave the screen and return, you’ll discover the gardener has disappeared, even if he didn’t pass by you.
After wandering around the park, Lou pretty much feels stood up. There are little cues along the way to let you know where to go and what to do next. You’ll encounter pigeons flocked to something on the ground. Then after you know the park, you’ll hear footsteps and follow the sound back to the duck pond where you’ll encounter a box. This box starts the mystery. Lou likes mysteries and so for their first date, Catarina has made quite a mystery for him.
There is nothing too vague about the game, you won’t be pixel hunting. The game wants you to get through it, because it was made by actual people and not the monsters that made Sierra games from the early 90s. You won’t need to search through dozens of things, A Date in the Park is kept to a paltry few interactions per screen, which I think that’s for the best. Through these interactions, you get a sense of who Lou is. His insecurities that he would possibly be stood up by a date and even his silly desires that he wants to go skinny dipping with his date that hasn’t showed up yet.
The navigation is easy, use your mouse, find an area to click on and click on it. Things that you can click on will have text appear at the bottom of the screen. Traveling from one screen to the next, just hover your mouse over the edge and click when it says “exit.” Then watch as Lou walks to where you just clicked. Right mouse clicking will make Lou examine things, which opens up different possibilities. Since the controls are so easy, that keeps the screen wide open and uncluttered.
When you hover your mouse at the top of the screen, an inventory drops down along with the options, save menu and exit. There aren’t that many items in the game and to use them, you’ll click on them in your inventory and then click on a game world object. Right mouse in the world clicking puts the item away. If you right mouse click an item in the inventory, you’ll examine the object, such as a Polaroid photo of Lou and Catarina from the night before. This proves that she’s real! With the inventory, you’ll do things like using a key to open a door, using your wallet will pay for the entry fee and you’ll wrap a baby duck in a handkerchief. Its all easy and self explanatory.
In the park, you’ll hear beautiful sounds and its a relaxing game to play. You can take your time, there’s no sort of pressure, just enjoy the tranquility and oddity of everything. There is only one light puzzle with a water pipe that you need to get just the right combination of switches flipped. In fact, I’d consider that the game’s only challenge.
I’m not one for stories in games, but I thought this one was good. The dialog is well written and believable, and you won’t be bogged down in dialog. You do need to pay attention, but its so sparse that it works to the game’s benefit. The story unfolds and while there’s a relaxing sense to the game, it feels like there is something amiss. The game builds with odd things happening. A mother duck violently attacking its baby, the gardener looking at the bushes, a locked tool shed and your late date has a mystery for you. Its an odd tone and it goes somewhere awesome by the end. Lou and I were both pretty oblivious to everything to what was closing in on us. In hindsight, it all made sense.
I managed to find an error that prevented the dialog box from staying open no matter what got said. I wasn’t able to duplicate the problem, but it was still there. I had to restart the game, but I wasn’t that far into it. Its just such a basic game that there was nothing glaringly wrong other than that single glitch.
Looking at the game, I can understand why some would easily skip it. The easy point and click gameplay, the early 90s digitized graphics don’t help sell the game, but if you go digging and get through the game, you’ll get rewarded. I’ve played through several story based games and never felt like saying that. I would play another one of these games from this developer.