I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very familiar with point-and-click adventure games. My exposure extends to Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Dry Twice—and that’s about it. But I’m getting the sense that atmosphere is everything. While studios can only innovate so much with the controls, they can play with the settings as much as they want. This is where Encodya succeeds. It creates a truly unique atmosphere that feels more like a quirky movie than a game.
The story follows Tina and her giant robot protector, SAM-53. Like all endearing robots, he behaves in a far more clumsy, human manner than he has any right to. Encodya opens on a typical day in Tina and SAM-53’s life. She lives under a makeshift shelter on a rooftop smack in the middle of a downtown city, assumedly somewhere in Japan, but called Neo Berlin.
There’s a creeping unease that settles in during Encodya. It goes beyond the typical dystopian bleakness and starts to feel flat-out disturbing. The streets are littered with humans completely enthralled by VR headsets—what SAM-53 calls “the opium of the people.” Everywhere you turn, you are greeted by odious hopelessness. The world is broken and Tina and SAM-53 are just the team to fix it.
Encodya’s official website suggests that the game is a mix between Blade Runner, Monkey Island, and Studio Ghibli. If ever there was an assertive boast, there it is. If you take three beloved pop culture staples and combine them, you better have something outstanding. Encodya gets close, but unfortunately it’s missing a certain je ne sais quoi. It almost does feel like a mix of these three elements, but it needs to add something fresh.
It feels like any game that dips a toe in the sci-fi genre pulls from Blade Runner. It’s almost inevitable. Here, I’m fine with it. Like I said, Encodya has something deeply unsettling about it. IT gnaws at you. Perhaps where Encodya’s ambition most widely misses the mark is with Monkey Island. This is because Encodya’s gameplay is fairly standard, and comes carrying all the familiar frustrations of point-and-click adventure games.
I admitted during my review of Leisure Suit Larry, that the truth might be that I’m just terrible at point-and-click games, but the solutions always feel a bit convoluted. Even if an item would be a logical fit, it never seems to work. The solution is always a little more difficult than expected. To be fair, Encodya offers you hints from SAM-53, but they are discouraged by an achievement that is only available to players who complete a playthrough without using them.
I’m focusing too much on the negative, though. Encodya is obviously a visual masterclass. It’s a sort of 2.5D setting that leverages foreground and background animation to great effect. I’m not sure if I get entirely Studio Ghibli feels from the animation, but something more akin to a Tim Burtonesque, early 2000s vibe. The disproportionate characters and their eccentric attitudes can be simply summed up as quirky.
For what it’s worth, point-and-click adventures largely end up becoming a story. Encodya is exactly that. It’s a heartwarming story of life and lessons learned. The gameplay is largely incidental, but the setting, though derivative, is an absolute win. Players that are unfamiliar with the genre may want to forego it if they crave a bit more action, but it’s difficult to not suggest Encodya to point-and-click enthusiasts. It’s difficult, it’s enchanting, and it’s a bit odd—even if it isn’t wholly original. But, to be fair, the studio praised their inspirations more openly than most would anyways.