First things first, those of you that have noticed Ratalaika as its publisher and have come here expecting easy achievements, you’re in luck. You’ll likely unlock all of the game’s achievements within the space of ninety minutes; most of them rewarded through natural play and some trial and error. That to the side, let’s dive right on in. My Big Sister surprised me for a number of different reasons. It’s a hit-and-miss experience, but what got to me the most is how much potential it squanders for nearly everything it tries to accomplish.
There’s no depth present, and very little in the way of innovation with the few mechanics that it instills. Players take on the role of Luzia, younger sister to Sombria. During the initial moments of play, Luzia’s world is turned upside down by a series of unfortunate events. Unfortunate events that revolve around Sombria, and that of an evil witch. The game’s story is relatively fantastical; housing elements of horror, warmth, and endurance. These themes are consistently present throughout the game’s hour-long run, and rarely tend to run dry.
It’s hard to dive too deeply into the plot without giving too much away, so I’ll do my best to dance around it instead. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll be taken to a range of bizarre locations, many of which sport outlandish characteristics. The crux of play sees you working through these locations in an attempt to aid Sombria in one form or another; be it freeing her of her torments, or encouraging her to bear with the curse inflicted by the witch. The overarching theme, together with the game’s writing and delivery, is certainly mature.
There’s killer ghosts, decapitations, mutilations, and everything in between to contend with. These plot points all play a role in the story at hand, and they all lead to what should otherwise be a thought provoking ending. Speaking of which, there’s a number of endings to chase down, endings that will vary based on your actions towards the latter half of the experience. The big problem, however, is that it’s fairly difficult to take the game too seriously. I say that because of both the game’s presentation, and its few technical issues.
The game’s RPG Maker-like visuals are hardly compelling, and despite that the writing itself is somewhat passable, I found myself struggling to feel all that invested. Due to the game’s short length, there’s no real time to build up any relationship with its cast of characters, let alone its leading siblings. You’re just thrown into the deep end and are expected to give a shit from the get-go, which never really pulls through. With more length and a better introduction, this could have been alleviated. Sadly, that’s just not the case in My Big Sister.
The shame here is that the game’s concept is, as alluded to above, pretty interesting when it wants to be. There’s no greater bond than the bond of siblings, but to see this thrown to the wayside in favor of cheap presentation and a short story, is somewhat disheartening. I found myself merely shrugging off story beats that should have shocked me rather than the contrary. Regardless, I’ll credit the game for attempting to relay said shocks, but it would have been a much easier game to care about if it took the time to make me want to care.
Moving on. You’ll slowly make your way across the game’s locations as you piece together the mystery behind the story’s structure. The gameplay is relatively easy to follow, and never really provides much of a challenge. Locations can usually be completely charted in a less than a minute, with most areas providing little more than a cluster of small, interconnected areas. There’s usually some NPCs nearby to guide you on your way; giving you useful items or tidbits of information to steer you towards the next point of interest.
You’ll strut around each area gathering items to use elsewhere. These items are often needed to either reach a new area, or, hand to an NPC that will give you another item in return – typically to reach a new area. That, ladies and gents, is pretty much all there is to it. There’s very little mechanic depth present here; no combat, no item merging, nothing. It’s just you, a small inventory system, and some common sense. I say common sense because My Big Sister never really demands that much thought; most solutions are far too obvious.
See something behind a paper wall? Go find a knife. Come up against a window that needs jarring open? Pull out that metal pipe that was conveniently placed nearby. There’s next to no complexity here, and for a game that’s clearly appealing to the maturer audience, it feels somewhat insulting. Despite that there’s no combat in My Big Sister, you can still bite the proverbial dust if you’re not careful. There’s a few sections of play in which if you perform the wrong action, you’ll die. Mercifully, there’s a generous checkpoint system to lean on.
That, and there’s usually a save point in each and every area should you want to save and quit. Outside of the above, there’s little else to discuss. It’s a game in which you simply move through the motions. I should point out that the game tries to tackle some deep themes; abuse, suicide and so forth. Though, in the face of its faults, these never really hit home in the way that I suspect the developer intended. Further to all of that, there’s a sizable range of technical problems that infrequently pop up from time to time during play.
Whilst not particularly game breaking, these issues will test your patience. Several times I witnessed an event failing to trigger, forcing a few reloads on my part until said events finally decided to play out. Then, there’s problems such as items not correctly appearing in the inventory, or, menu options failing to display. These may sound like small faults, but they all add up. Once you reach the endgame, you’re given a chapter select to go back and make varying choices on successive runs; a handy tool for those seeking out max completion.
Personally, I couldn’t find the will to run this through more than two endings. Everything is just too basic and too straightforward. I get that it’s a cheap game, and I get that expectations should not be set too high for a game of this type, but when a developer commits to a specific audience, the framework of their project should be of equal intelligence. It shouldn’t be this much of a walk in the park. In regards to the game’s audio and visual presentation, overall, it just about gets a pass on both fronts, just about.
Now, as aforementioned, the game sports an RPG Maker-like presentation. Each and every distinctly themed area remains on-par with that approach, and although some areas feel fascinatingly out of place, the detail on show is merely serviceable. I can say the same about the game’s audio design, being that it rarely goes above nor beyond to solidify much quality. My Big Sister would have greatly benefited from a little more depth, some more refinement, and a bit of extra length to make way for deeper storytelling. That much is true.
Instead, what we have is an experience that feels a little bit convoluted through its lack of player engagement and situational resolve. Still, for its price, you could go much worse. Just, don’t expect quite the same experience that the game’s storefront description boasts. The bottom line here is that if you’re an achievement hunter, you’re getting an easy boost to your Gamerscore. If you’re here for a minimalist experience, you’ll pull more than this from most. If, however, you’re hunting something compelling, expect disappointment.
Despite its interesting introduction, My Big Sister falls flat on all fronts. The game seems to be too confused with what it wants to be, and who it wants to appeal to. Whilst the game’s story is mature and tackles some very sensitive subjects, it gets too caught up in its own web of convoluted concepts. On top of that, the gameplay completely lacks mechanical depth, comes with no real difficulty, and is further hamstrung by several irritating bugs.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.