2019 is surprisingly stacked with puzzle games: Baba is You and Snakebird Primer released earlier this year, The Sojourn just released recently, and games like Kine and Felix the Reaper are just around the corner. Recently, a surprisingly strong title came out - Untitled Goose Game.
Untitled Goose Game (UGG) is a game where you play as a goose and do goose things - things such as honking, throwing items into a river, stealing food, sneaking into a pub, causing a rift between two neighbors culminating in one shattering the others’ base - y’know, goose stuff. It’s a funny game in how it’s both exactly what you’d expect and constantly breaking expectations, but mainly in a way of upping the ante.
At the start of the game, you leave your goose nest and travel up a creek to a lake. Near the lake you meet your first opponent: a gardener tending to some vegetables. You’re given a to-do list including having a picnic and dragging a rake into the lake. It’s here that the core gameplay of UGG emerges.
UGG is probably best compared to the Hitman games, but not in a stealthy way. Instead it shares the design focus on NPC behaviors and disrupting them. The gardener is one of many NPCs that have a normal routine that you can interrupt, different reactions to different scenarios, and priorities for when those scenarios interact. The gardener will try and retrieve their carrots when you take them to the picnic blanket, but if you pickpocket their keys and toss them in the river they’ll switch focus. The puzzles are not just deciphering how to do a task, but also how to do so safely and without impediment. Eventually, multiple NPCs will be in the same setting, interacting in different ways. Those two neighbors I mentioned before? While they’re arguing you can sneak around easily, but if they’re left alone they have their own patrols. Often times these puzzles require patience, at least to find specific gaps without acting recklessly, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait every time.
UGG is similar to the sub genre of “Fumble Simulators,” iincluding titles like QWOP or Getting Over it with Bennett Foddy. These games, to varying degrees, focus on difficult controls and movement and simple tasks. It creates a sort of irony when the player is told to do something they know is simple yet feels impossible. An example might be the game Octodad, where one scene has the title character buy a frozen pizza from the grocery store. Even opening the freezer to grab it is tough. UGG has some mild elements like this. Some objects are harder to move around due to their shape. The rake is long and snags on objects easily. The cabbage can’t be grabbed and instead must be rolled around. With a goose as the player character these tasks feel less Infuriating and more powerful - a goose normally doesn’t seem strong enough to kick a soccer ball into a goal, so when you do it seems like a major victory on the thematic level. Many tasks can be completed without careful stealth, but rather sheer recklessness by running through the town and dodging NPCs. This approach brings the most clunky parts of the control scheme to the forefront. It means that you have options on how you play the game, much like how Hitman can be stealthy or a third-person shooter. Of course, instead of guns, you have webbed feet.
UGG also follows a trend of puzzle games in having slightly distinct “periods” of gameplay. Note that this topic will be spoiler heavy by definition. This is because many puzzle games in the past few years have some point where the game fundamentally shifts. Often time it both adds a memorable “eureka moment,” where the player reaches some important conclusion, and recontextualizes previous parts of the game. Much like a plot twist, it’s fun to be surprised. In UGG, the final task of the main game involves carrying an object backwards through the town, having to dodge all the previous NPCs. After the credits roll, the player has a number of shortcuts opened and can complete postgame puzzles. These involve mixing objects from multiple areas, including a few that involve every area for a single goal. These sorts of meta puzzles aren’t too uncommon either - The Talos Principle had a few bonus puzzles that required specific solutions to several smaller puzzles, and Baba is You is laden with them. Personally, I like these challenges that combine other areas. I think for puzzle games, viewing a solved puzzle in a new light with a new goal can be thrilling. If you like to solve puzzles, simply having more well-crafted puzzles is usually a positive. I just find something appealing when an object or level serves multiple functions seamlessly, and UGG is full of these.
The last major plus on this game is the soundtrack. UGG normally has atmospheric noise, but sometimes a jazzy piano soundtrack plays when you get particularly close to or interact with humans. The usage of piano to accentuate movement or conflict feels very much like a classic cartoon, and here that connection helps add weight to actions and chaos to scuffles.
Overall, Untitled Goose Game is a solid indie take on the simulation-interruption-puzzle game genre of Hitman, and it has a lot of charm. Also you can honk. It’s great!