The beginning is a small lesson on how many pop culture allusions can be accommodated in five minutes: the video game "Space Invaders" from 1978, the posters of "Back to the Future" and "Star Wars", Converse Chucks, headbands like from "Karate Kid", Bonanza bicycles and tight jeans. This is how the game "Unusual Findings" begins, and if you don't think of the series "Stranger Things" or movies like "The Goonies" or "Gremlins", you have overslept the last few years or the whole eighties.
The small but surprisingly successful game from Argentina tells a coming-of-age story. The teenager Vinny is under house arrest – so the first task is to break out of the teenage room. And then it continues step by step in a story about adults who do not like to listen to the children, and aliens who want to destroy everything on Earth. Vinny meets his friends Tony and Nick, who want to hack cable TV and watch topless shows. Instead, they receive a message from aliens, search for the UFO in the forest, witness a murder and are stuck in the middle of the mysterious story.
Comeback of pixel games
"Unusual Findings" is a point-and-click adventure. The genre is called so because you point the mouse at an object in the image and then do something with it with a click – usually simple things like "open window" or "use key". Such adventures were the dominant genre of the late eighties, and this new game now looks as pixelated as the games of that time. But the old adventures from the nineties are currently experiencing a special moment. "Manic Mansion" from 1987 is to be continued, "Return to Monkey Island" has recently been released, the long-awaited sequel to the highly successful first two "Monkey Island" games from 1990 and 1991. The pirate fairy tale made up for the technical limitations of the first PCs with humor and a great narrative. The new part has become a good game, has a lot of the old humor – but no retro look at all. It looks more like a somewhat expressive comic, like something new.
For "Unusual Findings", the Argentinian studio Epic Llama wanted to transfer the recipe for success of the series "Stranger Things" to the games world: Everything should look like the game from around 1988. There is a comic shop, a gangster's caravan, an abandoned haunted house and the same facades of bourgeois families.
The story works as if life were a three-question mark novel. With the customer card from the shopping center you can participate in the exchange club of the comic shop. Only there is the important book about scout knots. Once you have it, you can finally loosen the hammock on the nearby farm, which will later help build a trap for aliens. And so on. Everything is combinatorics. And life is ultimately easy.
Of course, a pixelated video game is always surrounded by a touch of harmlessness. It's reminiscent of the days when gaming was just playing. It may have come to an end when the terrorists of 2001 trained with Microsoft's Flight Simulator. And it is obvious that today you can practice strategies for military operations with "Call of Duty". For several current shooters, there are already "Ukraine War Mods" with soldiers in the right uniforms and weapons, with places where people are really fighting. "Unusual Findings" is pleasantly innocent.
A game as a living book
It's about friendship, mad scientists and strange machines, youthful punks and the somewhat eerie charm of the American suburbs. And everything is accompanied by synthesizer music ("You spin me round"). "Unusual Findings" appears for all popular devices, but works particularly well on the Nintendo Switch. This console is slightly bigger than a phone, with detachable controllers left and right – gaming for the sofa or the café – so you can think of this game as a living book. It is also a quite complex book. So it behaves differently every time, depending on the decisions you make. It has three different resolutions; whether there is a happy ending or not depends on the players.
The year 2022 was not a big year for games. With its 2-D graphics from the last century, "Unusual Findings" captivates more than many of the big games like "Elden Ring" or "God of War Ragnarök". One often hears that the game companies push small developers to the edge of the market and there can hardly be great independent games left. Here is the evidence to the contrary.
"The eighties were the best decade," says the adult Vinny at the end after a time jump. "Life was simple, it was a time of discovery, the world smelled somehow new." That is certainly nonsense. But you believe a pixelated game with 8-bit music just a bit easier.