Rarely does a game come along ready and willing to challenge orthodox ideas about what a video game should be. Studio Seufz is taking a stab at reinventing the wheel with The Longing, a title which incongruously combines a story from German myth with the mechanics of time-wasting idle games like Cookie Clicker to create something new.
The Longing starts with a king, who tells his tiny servant, the Shade, that his powers are waning, that he needs to sleep for 400 days, and that Shade’s task is to wake him when that time has passed. The Shade is tiny in comparison to the king, a small beaky-nosed figure with huge yellow eyes and a body that appears to be made of shadows. Once the king falls asleep, the Shade is left to his own devices for 400 real-time days. Yes, this game can take over a year to complete properly.
The Shade has a small living quarters inside the massive underground cave network, and once retiring there, he is faced with the question of what to do to fill the vast amount of time before needing to fulfil his task of waking the king from his slumber. From there, the player can go exploring the huge network of caverns to find various items which can be used to decorate the Shade’s little living space. Other items to be found include coal, phosphorescent mushrooms, tools, and books. Fascinatingly, the books are real books such as Moby Dick, with text provided by the Gutenberg Project.
Here is where the waiting game begins, as the player will quickly find obstacles that take time to clear. One of the earliest is a door that takes several minutes to slowly creak open before the Shade can wander through. This is a central part of the mechanics, and various areas have the player forced to wait, minutes, hours, days, or even a month for certain events to occur before progress is possible. The player has the option of simply leaving the game and coming back to it later, an approach that also works for exploration, as the Shade moves at an interminably slow pace, so simply setting him to free roam and coming back to check on his progress later tends to be the less frustrating option.
Flicking between The Longing and whatever spreadsheets, paperwork, or video game review the player happens to be working on will slowly expose the central themes, which involve loneliness, existential angst, and the feeling of having no control over the future. The Shade will openly discuss his thoughts on these subjects as he potters about the caves, providing a general air of bleak melancholy.
The aesthetics used in The Longing add to the prevailing air of sadness. The colour palette is limited, mostly using shades of brown and grey, with occasional pops of brighter colours providing a relief for the eyes. Despite this, the visuals do not appear muddy; instead the style looks like it has been carefully drawn with coloured pencils, which give it a distinct charm.
Usually with video games is a rhythm that a player can fall into. The Longing disrupts that by slowing everything to a crawl, and making the player wait to get anything that could be classed as a reward. What the player gets for their time invested is to spend more time with the Shade as he explores his world. Ultimately, what this mechanic most resembles is the Tamagotchi toys from the late 90s, or perhaps the Chao Adventure game that could be carried around on a Dreamcast VMU.
The design approach taken by The Longing is bold, but it is not something everyone will appreciate. We live in an era of endless distractions, with many different forms of both work and entertainment clamouring for our time. Perhaps the developers behind The Longing have a point that it’s worth it to slow down once in a while.
Reviewed on PC.