By Angela McCann
I remember watching Kyle Kallgren’s (a.k.a. Oancitizen from Brows Held High) review of the animated feature film We are the Strange by creator M dot Strange.
The film itself was very video-game heavy, with references to other games as well as gaming itself being a recurring theme (the film was actually set inside a game!) but had a mixture of CGI and stop-motion characters and sets. Kyle then asked “What would a bunch of stop-motion characters be doing in a video game?” And while he rightly pointed out Neverhood as an example (which I really must get around to playing sometime) I have found another example of stop-motion being used in gaming.
My fellow frequenters of interactive media, I give you… Dominique Pamplemousse.
Dominique Pamplemousse is a PC game you probably haven’t heard of, and upon seeing the title you probably think it is some weird French thing (for the record, “pamplemousse” is French for grapefruit) but the truth is quite different. This point-and-click adventure game will only take about an hour and a half to complete and, although the answers aren’t always obvious, the puzzles presented are very simple. But what holds it above many other quick games and what makes it worth purchasing, is its unique presentation.
As I indicated in my little lead-up, this game is a point and click through an entirely stop-motion animated story. Yes, the animations are very basic, walking from one area to another and moving the mouth up and down to speak, but considering how much time and work it takes to make even a frame of stop-motion this is nothing to be sneezed at – and for what it is, the level of detail in each setting and motion is absolutely astonishing. Furthermore the slightly simplified look of the characters, with the large eyes and wide mouths, give fond memories of early stop-motion characters from childhood like Gumby or, more nostalgic to me personally, Morph and Chas. This adds a certain charm to their designs that makes you invest more in the characters, particularly the central protagonist Dominique Pamplemousse. All of the character designs are unique to themselves, allowing you to distinguish between them all quite easily.
Of course, there is another way you can distinguish between them.
Each character has their own individual theme song, which plays whenever you share a scene with them. This song continues depending on how long you stay in the scene, and changes if different characters enter the setting. Not only that, but the themes provide the rhythm and backing track to the songs as they pop up. Oh, did I not mention that the characters often burst into song? Yep. The majority of the story is given through song, all set to the particular character theme. Which leads me to the sound design in general – another great work. Again very simple, and I’m fairly certain several characters were voiced by the same person, but each delivery is solid with the lyrics flowing smoothly and the singing sounding quite pleasant (for the most part, things can get a little off-key at times). Things can really get a bit repetitive unfortunately, as the themes never change so if you don’t enjoy them things can get quite dull. But I enjoyed it and overall everything works well to tell the story of unemployed detective Dominique Pamplemousse, who gets a job from Prudence Van Dunng, to find out what has happened to a pop singer who has mysteriously disappeared.
Essentially, this is a stop-motion musical point and click detective game.
I’m fairly sure that hasn’t been done before.
Now onto the juicy stuff. A lot of the story elements have been seen before. Unemployed detective, overbearing mother, mysterious disappearance, twist reveals, a corrupt business etc. etc. While not really original (apart from the research on audio robotics, which was quite fascinating) they all work well to their abilities to tell what is happened. This is made well with very funny dialogue and lyrics; I spent so much time just laughing at what these characters came out with. The big interest comes in the main character of Dominique, and her… his… their identity. There are frequent awkward references to Dominique’s gender, with characters asking if she was a “Mr” or a “Miss”, with her often saying “What does it matter?” and lamenting the gender-specific bathroom signs. This is the first time I have seen a genderless or gender-queer character in a video game (at least, one who had this acknowledged) and although this may not be the case (the name and voice suggests female) there is nothing to confirm or deny it either way, so all we have to go on is what the characters say. But what we can take is that Dominique does not find their gender important and does not let it define who they are, which is an excellent message to bring across and I appreciate the creators even more for going in this direction.
The ending of Dominique Pamplemousse has its positives and problems. I won’t spoil it because I want you to play this game yourself, but I will say that it feels… I don’t want to say “empty” but more, unfulfilled. I can’t say I can think of a better ending, as my instincts would probably go for a cliché. Needless to say you will end by making a choice, and both endings are fairly morally ambiguous, leaving you sitting there during the credits and just… thinking about it. I appreciate the choice to go for that kind of ending but for me personally it didn’t hit the right spot.
To conclude this is a very interesting, charming and unique little game that really deserves to be looked at; it’s a little stop-motion gem and I love it! Yes, there are some repetitive elements and some things that don’t quite work, but it’s clearly a labour of love that deserves to be shared. If you have a couple of pounds spare then pick it up, sit back and enjoy the story.