I’ve always loved fairy tales and folklore, and even collect compilations of them. So much can be learned about a culture through the beliefs and fears reflected in their stories. Naturally, when I heard of Burly Men at Sea, it seemed quite apt to take a gander through its Scandinavian folklore inspired settings.
At the game’s onset, the player controls a trio of burly fishermen who find an uncharted map in a bottle and wonder what to do with it. After talking to folks around the tiny town, the café owner recommends that they go on an adventure to find out what’s on the map. With nothing much else to do on the island, the men hop aboard their ship, set sail, and promptly get swallowed by a whale. Thus begins their first adventure.
To interact with objects, you left click on them. In large environments, you can hold left click and drag left or right to move the screen and characters, if possible. The dragging was not quite intuitive at first, but once I got used to it, it functioned seamlessly. Unlike many other adventure games, much of Burly Men at Sea involved watching and interacting with the environment to proceed, with minimal reading involved.
As the men traverse the waters around them, they are faced with certain decisions. Many quirky characters and encounters lie out there in the vast ocean, but they soon find themselves back home. Now, having charted but a small section of their map, they can embark on their next adventure to discover more. Though I enjoyed meeting the inhabitants of this strange map, I wish the developers had added more details regarding the folklore characters; perhaps even some backstory. Admittedly, this may be counter-intuitive to the goals of the game’s design, but it seems such a waste that my interest in the folklore has been sufficiently piqued but I don’t even have names I could search for to read more.
Complementing the men’s haphazard journeying is a bevy of beautiful tunes and sound effects. At times cheerily optimistic and other times fogged with mystery, the music captures the wonder of the lands exquisitely. Even without the gameplay, which already isn’t much, the compositions and animations are certainly worth taking the time to sit and enjoy. Graphically, Burly Men at Sea employs a minimalist vector style and mainly pastel hues that meld well with the fantastical creatures the men encounter. I’d be more than happy to simply watch a commentary-free playthrough of this game to appreciate its captivating tunes and pleasing scenery.
Although I found the initial forays charming, I soon grew tired of parts of the game. Each excursion only provides the player with four situations with which to make decisions, and #1 has three possible outcomes, while #4 only has two results based on your decisions in #3. As a result, only situations #2 and #3 can heavily change the story per trip. Furthermore, the player has to go through the scenes for situations #1 and #4 again, and again, and again to tease out all permutations. Unfortunately, some scenes are quite lengthy, and I frequently got annoyed waiting for them to play out. Don’t get me wrong, the first time those scenes occurred, I marveled at the beautiful scenery and animations, but by the second time around, I just wanted to skip them so I could move forward to a new story path. Perhaps I’m too grown up or impatient for a lazy, winding game like Burly Men at Sea, but I could definitely see it charming many a child. I’m sure child-me would have enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny of this map.
Filled with quirkiness, wonder, and exploration, Burly Men at Sea is certainly a niche game targeted more towards children and adults who want to be kids again. Not everyone will find it a pleasant journey, but I suspect more will be surprised by its charm than not — even if it does not last.