Every day is the same in space. Dark, quiet and lonely. Just how you like it.
Space is also the perfect place to forget about your past life or, at least, avoid it for as long as possible. Still There from developer GhostShark is a melancholy story about Karl Hamba, a father who takes on a job as the sole operator of the Bento spaceship to escape from his past life. On the forefront, Still There is a puzzle game where you’ll have to poke around on the Bento in order to complete the daily tasks expected of you. But it is also a game inherently about grief and how it effects humans lives in an incredibly profound way.
To start with, the Bento can be a pretty overwhelming place. It’s clear that not only Karl but the operator who came before him made themselves at home as there are items strewn about in each and every room. It looks a bit like a seek-and-find game and you’ll certainly have every room of the spaceship memorised before the game is over. Karl’s bedroom is home to his pet Tuatara lizard, the silent companion living with him on the ship, and the Bento is also equipped with a kitchen, bathroom and Karl’s main work space.
Karl is in charge of taking care of a few daily tasks that his not-so-friendly AI Gorky will remind him of. These tasks can be anything from sending coordinates to your boss via email, aligning a capsule in order to receive mail and many more menial, mind-numbing tasks. It won’t take the player long to realise that Karl didn’t take this job for fun: he’s running away from painful memories. One day, when Karl receives a strange call on his radio, his days of monotony are thrown off the deep-end.
In Still There, the Technical Manual is your best friend. Many of the puzzles that you’ll be solving will require you to reference a page in the manual that tells you how to run the various machines that you’re in charge of. The manual certainly isn’t the easiest to understand – I often found myself just pressing random buttons hoping that something would happen – but once you get the hang of how things work, you’ll likely become a Bento pro in no time. If you do find yourself getting stuck too often, Still There has an “easy mode” that you can instate allowing you to skip the more complicated puzzles. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t been tempted by easy mode on a few occasions.
Although the puzzles are one of the biggest parts of the game, you’ll also find yourself poking around the ship and uncovering more information about Karl’s past. Not only is Karl working on a novel, which you’ll have the opportunity to read, but he writes a diary and has emails that you can go through. Seeing as the only person that Karl regularly has to talk to is Gorky, these emails and diary entries are a brilliant way to build the story.
My only quarrel with Still There on the Nintendo Switch is that so many of the buttons on the Bento are so incredibly small that I often found myself clicking on the wrong thing, or skipping over it all together. There is a magnifying glass feature where you can zoom in on a certain area of the ship at a time, but even then things are fuzzy and hard to read. For a game that focuses so much on pressing the right buttons and pulling the right levers, it can be very difficult at times – especially when playing the game on a Nintendo Switch’s small screen.
It’s hard to pinpoint what players will like most about Still There because there’s so much to choose from. While its puzzles are difficult, that just makes them much more satisfying when you finally solve them. Karl is a well-written, relatable character with such a heartbreaking backstory you just might find yourself tearing up as the story unfolds. And the feeling of isolation is one that permeates the entire adventure the same way that darkness envelops light. Karl is in a bad way and you’ll be stepping into those shoes to help him on his difficult journey.
Still There is deeply complicated and sophisticated combining genres in such a way that it feels like something brand new. Taking about five hours to complete, give or take however long it takes players to beat the puzzles, Still There is a pleasure to play and one that will stick with you for a long time after.