It’s tempting to mess with a game’s limits. It seems like there’s almost always an opportunity to make a game trip over itself. Watching a game fail to accommodate your uncooperative attacks against the limitations of its design can sometimes prove more rewarding than going through the game’s intended motions. “Untitled Goose Game,” now available for download on the Nintendo Switch, plays to this ostensibly unhealthy desire by allowing you to be an absolute menace.
Playing as the titular goose, you’re given a myriad of items to move and people to torment. That’s it. You’re a goose, and every aspect of your being is urging you to irk.
Far from a consciously self-reflective look at the limitations of game design, “Untitled Goose Game” constructs an experience based on a thorough understanding of unorthodox pleasures you can discover while playing video games. The game harnesses a charmingly chaotic energy by serving as a paean to the necessity and joy of disturbing the quotidian.
The robotic, highly specialized routines of a sedate English town are so dull they’re begging to be pestered. The game makes chaos feel so palpable by establishing how your actions — small as they might be — briefly and totally disrupt someone’s humble expectations. “Untitled Goose Game” makes this mischief so enjoyable by supplying a completely unobtrusive avatar to embody the mischievous spirit: a goose.
The novelty of playing as a goose is deceitfully simple yet conceptually adept. A goose is an accepted annoyance; it’s not a pest you can exterminate or avoid, so a goose is free to enter your life at will. The game allows to you do three things: honk, move and grab. A limited moveset maximizes the simple pleasure of making someone miss a ring toss with a perfectly timed honk, as well as the more patient joys of moving an item into a Rube Goldbergian string of events.
The approach to puzzles the “Untitled Goose Game” uses won’t feel too unfamiliar to fans of point-and-click adventure games — optimizing chaotic potential often comes down to a puzzle solving setup — but your place as a goose among humans complicates any genre trappings.
You’re a nuisance to everyone around you, so people are constantly shooing you away from them, which makes “Untitled Goose Game” into something of a stealth game. The genre mixture of the stealth and point-and click is evidence of an understanding of each game’s pleasures. You’re not solving things for a defined purpose, and there’s no substantial punishment for being caught, so your purpose in the game feels dependent on how you’d like to approach your surroundings.
By making the goals of the game feel like a natural extension of your avatar’s natural instincts and place in the world, “Untitled Goose Game” strips away the perfunctory elements of playing stealth and point-and-click games.
The game also finds a perfect balance between outright sadism and harmless hijinks, and the balance is served by a complete absence of condescension. You feel neither bad nor justified for messing with the small town. You’re embodying the essence of a goose, while indulging in your interest in ruffling feathers.
Your limited ability as a goose has you mostly allowing people to bumble into misfortune or play the fool to schemes they’ve unknowingly found themselves in. You’re never faced with the feeling you’re changing anyone through your mischief. Your goose antics yield different responses from the townspeople, so your actions really only seem spiteful to the people unwilling to appreciate or adapt to the presence of an unexpected goose.
Your goose is quickly characterized as a force of harmless mischief, and the careful consideration given to typifying the goose is also reflected in the meticulous design of the town and its people.
The small world of “Untitled Goose Game” allows for a number of quietly humorous coincidences, a sense of progression and a freedom to experiment. A running joke in the game is the difficulty with which people try to return to their humble ambitions after you’ve interrupted them. You get the sense your victims are resuming their activities with a creeping anxiety and awareness of your passion for generating additional havoc.
Some of the most entertaining portions of the game have you forcing different personalities into misunderstandings with each other. The people you encounter have distinct ways of interacting with you as well; aloofness or stubbornness can initially feel like hindrances to your need for disorder, but these traits can be exploited through careful planning. “Untitled Goose Game” puts you into somewhat of a spectator’s role; the detailed world resists thoughtless antics, so an understanding of the people’s routines and relationships are integral to causing peak hysteria.
Completely lacking dialogue, “Untitled Goose Game” uses a carefully considered approach to music to fill this absence. The contextual music has the effect of feeling like you’re playing out a silent comedy of your own making. Chase music can ramp up in intensity only to shift effortlessly into triumph as you escape your pursuer.
Although the music does suggest improvisation, it also introduces these brief motifs to serve the functional effect of alerting you to a prospective shooer. The music changes with each area, and it has the uncanny effect of characterizing the humans, you and your actions. The music of “Untitled Goose Game” is integral to the expression of the goose’s tribulations and ambitions; it accomplishes an actively narrative function in an ambient register.
Reactive soundtrack of the year. pic.twitter.com/b58WxkILRF
— Gareth Damian Martin 🔜 IndieCade Europe (@JumpOvertheAge) September 23, 2019
The game runs around two hours if you take the completion of its objectives to be its only goal, but successfully running through the game without dallying is entirely against the point. Completing the objectives is necessary for progression, but these always felt more like mere hints to inspire your own troublemaking efforts.
The greatest achievement of “Untitled Goose Game” is rewarding even the most bizarre and puerile actions of the player. Any and every “what if…” scenario is expected in this game’s world. Characters will provide unique reactions and approaches to even the most outlandish schemes. There’s a singular joy in knowing the creators of the game are thoroughly on your wavelength. It’s unsurprising a game dedicated to pulling a fast one could be so hard to trip up.