Artifex Mundi has become a synonym for casual adventures. Their game catalog is filled with easy and relaxing entertainment for all kinds of players. I, too, have enjoyed their leisurely games, so I certainly raised my eyebrow when Artifex Mundi announced that they’re trying their hand at a bona fide point-and-click adventure. Not only that, they chose perhaps the most difficult subgenre in it; a comedy! Humor in games is something that is rarely pulled off successfully and is often up to the personal taste. I loved and laughed with LucasArts’ classic adventures in the 90’s, such as The Secret of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. However, LucasArt’s rival Sierra put out several widely popular adventure games that just made me grin uncomfortably. What category does Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love fall in with its goofy political satire?
It’s 1951 and a communist paranoia is at its worst in the big West. Commies are seen in every street corner, spreading their harmful ideology amidst Capitalist Union. Despite these prejudices, Evan Kovolsky, a young and idealistic small-time journalist, is ashamedly pro-socialist. He admires the great leader of the great Eastern republic, Matryoshka, and dreams one day traveling there. After (illegally) joining a TV show where he gets to spread his red-starred thoughts, Evan meets buxom Anna, a military officer from beyond the Iron Curtain. She wishes Evan’s help to overcome a conspiracy against the great leader himself. After settling some home affairs first, Evan finds himself on the road to having his dreams become a reality!
Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love is a retro game without looking like one. Instead of nostalgic pixel art, Evan, his comrades, and the small world they inhabit are drawn in an expressive cartoon look that has an uncanny eye for all kinds of mischievous details. The story is enriched with short, vivid animated cutscenes playing in key - or just plain funny - moments. What truly makes Irony Curtain a retro game, though, is genuine 90’s sentiments at its heart. It isn’t just superficial but the developers have fully understood what made point-and-click adventures of yesteryears tick. First, we have Evan (or Ivan, as he’s called in the East), a youthful and misguided twit who, despite his short stature, thinks too highly of himself and is blissfully unaware of events around him. Evan’s bright-eyed, keen optimism looks through all the decadence that’s ripe in Matryoshka.
Second, we have puzzles, no, make it hundreds of puzzles that require a little extraordinary thinking to solve them. Some of them bend logic and can be a bit far-fetched but that, too, is oh-so 90’s. It can take nonsensical chain of events and rubbing several backs to obtain an item after item to solve the puzzles with, so much so that you can lose track of what you were doing in the first place! To be fair, it’s not always exactly clear why you need to do something in order to do, er, something. In fact, that’s just like poor Evan himself, lost in both of his own and everybody else’s machinations. Thankfully, the game is segmented into a few key areas at a time and each has only a few screens to travel between. It greatly helps in figuring out the game’s whimsical logic while you’re running in circles wondering what to do
Eventually, the inventory fills up with more or less peculiar items that each has their own purpose. Special shout-out to a few key items, like the ever-so useful razor blade, that are constantly called upon in solving puzzles that further Evan’s agenda -- whatever that might be! While most of the puzzles are indeed solved with items (and combinations of items, and combinations of items upon items), there are also a few minigames, paying homage to the developer’s history of casual games. Most are fun enough to figure out and besides, you can try them as often as you need before they are solved. Rest assured, the user interface never comes in the way and it’s safely derived from the finest examples of the genre. If you ever played a point-and-click adventure before, you know how to play Irony Curtain, too. If not, well, it’s easy as a pie to plan out necessary controls and interactions.
Lovely looks and delightfully illogical puzzle solving wouldn’t amount to much, though, if the rest of the game wasn’t as funny as it strives for. But it is! I had my doubts, given how dangerous ground the humor, especially in video games, is to trod on. After all, it can as easily turn you on as turn you off. Mocking at communism might appear derived at first but the Polish developers themselves have lived under a communist regime so they surely know firsthand where to draw their irony from. Most of the time what they have come up with hits the target, squarely smack at the center of it. The story is funny, well-written and insightful with some clever verboseness put into Evan’s and other characters’ mouths. True, it all might still be a bit derivative at times, but humor that covers a common ground is better than jokes that have nothing to say.
It’s an incentive enough to solve the puzzles out of the way to see where the story eventually takes poor Evan to. Intentional or not, he reminds me of young Woody Allen who, too, was caught up in a crazy revolution in his early 70’s comedy Bananas. Still, Evan could have been an annoying creature (most of the past adventure heroes fall in that category, mind you) but Christopher Ragland is truly exceptional in voicing out Evan’s hapless antics. His comedy timing and delivery is spot on, crafting Evan into a lovable idiot. Of course, there are numerous nods to adventure game classics all the way up to Thimbleweed Park, not to mention several Easter eggs that are scattered around sights and sounds of Matryoshka and into the lines the characters utter.
Hats off to Artifex Mundi for having guts to make a diversion into point-and-click adventures. Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love could easily have been a leftover turkey that wasn’t tasty even the first time it was roasted, but it sticks its landing right through to the very last scene. Despite being an indie title, the game is crafted deceivingly professionally. That’s especially highlighted in the script that has been properly edited to sharpen its impact with only minimum slack. In these days of mostly grim entertainment, it was so liberating to laugh with the game and be constantly amused by its many wonderful twists and turns. To be honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy Irony Curtain as much as I did, but when I found myself chuckling at even the first lines of the game, I was a goner. How about next a game about a great, stupid leader of the West? Wait, that’s reality and not funny at all…
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.