Max Nielsen is a name gamers are going to want to remember. The lone developer behind adventure-puzzle game The Long Return has crafted a short experience that tells a beautiful story through evocative audio and visuals. Despite the occasional bug, this small game packs a big punch and is worth the minimal time investment required to complete it.
In The Long Return, the player assumes the role of an orphaned cub in search of their mother. The journey takes the cub across levels with unique settings and atmospheres as they follow the memory of their lost mother. To progress through the levels, the player must complete a variety of different puzzles to overcome obstacles. Along the way, gems can be obtained through exploration and can be traded for hints to particularly difficult puzzles.
The first glowing success of this game is its gorgeous low-poly art style and colour palette. The Long Return’s graphics channel the nostalgia of the PS1 era with intentionally blocky assets that exude gentleness through the soft hues of the palette. The original soundtrack, composed by Dale North, further complements the calm atmosphere with lulling tones that perfectly create the ambience of each world.
Gameplay is simple and offers a relaxing experience. New puzzle types are introduced at a comfortable pace, easing the player through the learning curve. Despite the short length of the game, the variety of puzzles feels just right. The hints available provide perfect assistance to the player without overtly giving the solution away. Movement through the levels is reasonably smooth although, at times, the distance between platforms when jumping is problematic.
Nielsen’s choice to tell the story without text or words paid off. The narrative that unfolds is beautiful, with a surprise ending that deserves to be played. Creating an emotional ending is hard to achieve, but Nielsen has effectively utilised the tools at his disposal to breathe life into the world of The Long Return. For the narrative alone, this game is worth it.
A few minor bugs were encountered throughout the playthrough. Bunnies wandering the level would sometimes defy gravity and bound around mid-air. On a few occasions, attempting to jump onto a platform whilst sprinting would cause the orphaned cub to propel into the air before gracefully being lowered down to earth. At another point, I was unable to interact with a puzzle, thus preventing further progress. However, this was easily fixed by exiting and reloading the level. None of these bugs were a cause for major concern, which is an impressive feat for a lone developer and a testament to the developer’s attention to detail.
The Long Return is a charming game that deserves to be played. The gorgeous story challenges the player just enough to make the adventure worth returning to after completion. What few bugs exist within the game can be easily overlooked due to the simple joys the game creates.
Reviewed on PC.