Gaming needs more protagonists like The Sundew’s Anna Isobe.
This cybernetic cop’s abilities let her clear a dark, hoodlum-filled alley quicker than you can say “Thomas and Martha Wayne”, though that’s not the chief reason she’s so appealing. No, what makes her fun to play as is that she barely gives a toss, and when you’re witness to all the crap she has to deal with, you realise it’s a miracle she’s not permanently pickled.
She’s been made all but superseded by purely robotic officers and she approaches life with just the right blend of cynicism and sarcasm; yet she never once crosses over into “smug arsehole” territory. The same can’t be said of the people who enlist her help, but it’s still refreshing that she’s not “the chosen one” – she was just in the wrong place at the right time.
In fact, there’s a lot to love about The Sundew which, though you wouldn’t know to look at it, is the work of one-woman developer and publisher Agnès Vuillaume. A point-and-click pixel-styled adventure, it takes you around (and beyond) the seedier sections of Shibukawa, a futuristic but war-pocked metropolis. It’s refreshing to have a cyberpunk game that doesn’t shove gleaming skyscrapers and 80-foot high holographic billboards into your face. Welcome to the future, it’s a bit shit.
Speaking of things being not quite as good as they could be, my puzzle-solving exploits got off to a bit of a rocky start due to the The Sundew’s biggest, and perhaps only, glaring flaw. No, it’s not Cat Hair Moustache time again; in fact, I’m happy to report that despite its general aesthetic, The Sundew’s puzzles, which mostly involve deciding which object to use on which object, actually involve some semblance of logic.
The one time I felt like pitching my monitor a through a window it turned out to be my fault because I’d ignored a really, really obvious solution. Anna’s cyber-implants figure into a few conundrums but you’re not being plunged into cyberspace every few minutes, which I definitely appreciated.
Instead, the problem is that The Sundew issues you with a list of tasks to be completed. While that seems like a sensible gesture, some of those puzzles can be only be completed in a specific order. I quickly learnt to treat the list as a vague guideline, but it gives the misleading impression that you have the freedom to tackle the tasks independently. It’s still useful for jogging your memory but a shame that a mechanic designed to assist the player risks becoming another obstacle.
The characters are, mostly, a well-rounded and well-written lot – though, apart from one very brief section, there’s no spoken dialogue. Like Disco Elysium‘s original cut I didn’t once miss the lack of voiceovers and, in all honesty, the game doesn’t need them. What I definitely did notice was how superb the outdoor locations’ background sound effects are. They’re so sneakily understated that you’ll wonder if they’re coming through your headphones or from outside. I took my headphones off at least three times because I was sure I was hearing a helicopter outside, somewhere far above me.
Despite its “Flee the conspiracy, reverse the dystopia” tagline, The Sundew is a pleasingly low-key tale and, despite the stakes, it’s ultimately Anna’s story. Clocking in at around four hours to complete, with multiple endings depending on your final choice, it never outstays its welcome, though a couple of lesser plot threads are left dangling.
The Sundew isn’t perfect; every so often I ended up shaking my fist at its list of tasks, mocking me with its empty boxes, knowing full well some of them were entirely dependent on others. But this pixel-based point-and-click adventure still had me hooked to the end. All the more remarkable for being a solo effort, The Sundew is a real treat for adventure fans, cyberpunk aficionados or anyone who’s sick of being a chirpy chosen one.
The Sundew Review – GameSpew’s Score