Encodya Review

Encodya, built by a small Estonian developer Chaosmonger Studio, plants its flag firmly in the ground as a no-nonsense point-and-click adventure game. Items are collected, people are spoken to, stories are told, and characters develop in a manner that could have been ripped from the genre’s heyday of the 1990s.

The story surrounds Tina, an orphan, and her robot friend SAM-53. It is set in a neon-soaked Berlin, a city crumbling under corrupt politicians and pointless bureaucracy. Tina holds some secrets in her past and it is down to her and SAM to unravel them.

This is done by moving through a series of static/scrolling screens, talking to people, picking up items, and solving puzzles. Encodya’s gimmick is that the player is required to switch between Tina and SAM to be able to talk to certain people, or to access certain elements.

The backdrops hark back to the Lucasarts’s Bladerunner – the static art’s colours and renders are very much in line with that 90s SVGA aesthetic. The music also has a Bladerunner Vangelis twang to it, which seals its tribute to the Ridley Scott film.

Whether people are going to enjoy Encodya seems to come down to how much of the nonsense they can tolerate from a ‘no-nonsense’ point-and-click adventure. By this I mean that there are pixel hunts where the player needs to sweep their cursor across the screen to find the one interact point. There are other moments where a player is going to find themselves try every item in their inventory to brute-force a puzzle (or use the hint system the game’s concession to modern game design). Other times the player will have to reinitiate dialogue with characters until all the options are exhausted to progress the story. These things are standard of an old-school approach, and I am not a fan, but others won’t blink at their inclusion.

I might have been more forgiving of this if I had wanted to see where Encodya was going to go.

The story, writing, and voice acting were not able to justify my investment.

The universe itself seems quite boilerplate. I struggled to figure out what the game wanted to say – media manipulation is bad, social media is a drug, populist idealogues are a gateway to fascism – these are bullet points that are littered across the story but with very little binding agent to make this conspiracy theory plot compelling.

Within these subplots there are enough situations that caused me to raise an eyebrow. Foremost is a racist caricature that runs an Asian/German fusion restaurant. It is almost as if the game knows it should be embarrassed by the character’s visual and audio depiction, because there is a disclaimer on boot up about ‘stereotypes.’ Rather than fix the character, we get a ‘sorry if you were offended’ message.

One of the other standout subplots that had me balking involves the game-world premise that every child is given a robot at birth. While travelling through the city, the duo encounters a robot that has been abandoned, to degrade on a walkway, by their teenage protégé. This is resolved by repairing the robot and it confronting the teen and apologising to the human for needing them more. Maybe this was the point, that the robot nannies only have one purpose and are lost without that. However, given that this subplot then goes nowhere, it is hard to watch a (mechanical)slave apologise to their owner.

The English translation is mostly okay, but Tina does not sound like a 9-year-old, with the English words she uses being far more elaborate than any I ever heard from someone their age. It is jarring when you see her having political discussions and have to remember that she isn’t even 10. There are other times where the writing is clumsy and characters that were otherwise fluent in English utter a sentence that sounds google auto generated to a native speaker. These things made me stumble a little but not as bad

Finally, the voice acting. Tina and SAM are well performed but everyone outside of that was a miss for me. Dick Bates was a character that I never wanted to speak to, and I ended up turning the sound off completely to get through the game.

I am trying to end on some kind of positive note, or at least some kind of caveat that might encourage a player to give this a try, I just can’t.

Conclusion

Encodya is an unabashedly retro point-and-click adventure. That brings with it all of the warts of early-mid 90s gaming along with any nostalgia.  

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This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox Series S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.

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Good
  • Encodya shoots for a specific dystopian mood
  • The hint system is a good concession to modern sensibilities
Bad
  • The story is uninspiring
  • The puzzles aren’t zingers
  • There are straight up racist caricatures in this game
  • The outcome is unrewarding
3.8
Lousy
Gameplay - 4
Graphics - 5
Audio - 4
Longevity - 2
Written by
AJ Small is a games industry veteran, starting in QA back in 2004. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made. He can be found on twitter (@badgercommander), where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.

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