Review – Unusual Findings
The 1980s was such an influential decade that the many people have never been able to let it go. Thanks to TV shows like Stranger Things, fashion trends that never seem to die, and countless musical mega-hits, the 80s seem like a time period that’s in a constant state of resurgence. Although, that’s not always a bad thing. As a child growing in the 80s and 90s, I often enjoy shows and video games that are able to recapture the magic of the 80s, even if it tends to be a bit overdone. The latest entry into the retro-themed 80s nostalgia experience is Unusual Findings from Epic Llama. Did it manage to elevate itself higher than a voluminous, over-teased hairdo, or did it fall faster than Lipps Inc.’s career?
Three friends, Vinny, Nick, and Tony, are typical young boys looking to spend their evening like most others their age- by using their new cable signal descrambler in order to watch naked ladies on an adults-only channel. Well, maybe that’s not something every young boy tried to do, but it’s safe to say that were plenty that tried (unsuccessfully) or at least thought about it. When their descrambler accidentally picks up a distress call from an alien space ship as it crash lands in the woods, they trio decide to investigate. Pretty much a usual Saturday night, right?
Unusual Findings is a love-letter to everything involving the 80s. Nearly every character and location is either a faithful representation of or a direct reference to someone or something from that era. I could tell just from the trailer that Unusual Findings was going to be chock-full of Easter eggs, and I was not disappointed. The iconic posters, gaudy decorations, and ridiculous fashion styles are all here in their ostentatious glory. For anyone who grew up during that time, prepare for a nostalgia bomb of epic proportions.
The gameplay is extremely simple, harkening back to classic point-and-click adventure games from the Sierra and LucasArts days. Aside from using your cursor to navigate where you want to go, there are three basic actions to choose from: “Look”, “Touch”, or “Talk”. There’s not much beyond these three commands, although they can at times change a bit depending on the situation. For example, sometimes the “Touch” icon will change to “Grab” or “Punch” depending on what’s happening at that moment.
This also means that you’ll constantly have to check all options when interacting with things, since the solutions to obstacles can hinge on some of the lesser seen commands when you’re not expecting it. At one point I got stumped on a puzzle because a video game cartridge wouldn’t work properly. I’d already heard about blowing into it to remove dust (a classic trick from my own childhood), but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Eventually, I looked closer at the action options when interacting with a gaming system, which is when I noticed the “Talk” icon had changed to “Blow”. I never would have thought of that action popping up with that particular object, but thankfully, it worked.
That’s not to say that the puzzles are overly convoluted. For the most part, Unusual Findings finds the proper balance between logic and critical thinking skills. I know some players will be turned off because of the lack of a hint system, but I actually appreciated not having the game hold my hand. I actually found myself breaking out my trusty notepad for a few puzzles and minigames, which is something I haven’t had to do since playing Obduction.
Nearly everything made sense, although you will have to pay close attention to the dialogue, since often times the information needed to get past something will be thrown into random conversations. There was only one puzzle that genuinely stumped me because you’re essentially not suppose to do anything at all, which felt counter-intuitive. Thankfully, that was the only hangup I had throughout my playthrough.
Where Unusual Findings shines brightest is with its art design. It features a pixel art style, but it’s much more elaborate than anything you would find on the Super Nintendo or Commodore 64. By using a wider color palette and dynamic lighting effects, the graphics are much more vibrant and easy to discern. This is abundantly clear when looking at one of the numerous movie posters littered through town. Even though they’re displayed in pixels, anyone familiar with 80s pop culture will be able to recognize the references immediately.
The sound design is equally impressive. Unusual Findings has a killer soundtrack, with a wide variety of licensed music and original synthwave tunes. The voice acting is also really great all around. I only have one minor gripe, which is that a couple characters (mainly Linda) sound like they were recorded in a separate location from the rest of the cast. It’s not a big difference, but hearing a character of some importance sound like they’re speaking from a closet was a little distracting at times. Like I said though, it’s really not a huge deal. The soundtrack and the hilarious dialogue are more than enough to keep you invested.
Unusual Findings is an amusing adventure full of quirky characters, interesting locations, and unexpected moments. The story might tread familiar ground, but it’s so charming and zany that it doesn’t really matter. The puzzles are fun and the characters are endearing. Plus, there are multiple endings and ways to overcome obstacles, so there’s quite a bit of replayability. However, I do fear that people’s enjoyment of it will largely depend on whether or not they grew up in that time period and are familiar with 80s references. For those of us who did grow up during that time, know that Unusual Findings was tailor-made for us. Don’t wait! Grab a Jolt Cola and lose yourself in Unusual Findings all night long.
The pixel art aesthetic is the perfect design choice for this 80s throwback game. The inclusion of a much wider color palette and dynamic lighting effects make the graphics even more vivacious and easily readable.
A standard point-and-click game, with only three simple interaction options of “look at”, “grab”, and “talk to”. These are implemented well and there’s a fair amount of things to engage with within each area. The puzzles make logical sense and don’t hold your hand.
The voice acting is really well done all around, although a couple characters don’t have the same sound quality as the rest. The soundtrack is comprised of a fantastic selection of licensed music and original 80s synth tunes.
Fun Factor: 8.0
Unusual Findings is a game that was truly made for people that grew up in the 80s. While I’m sure there are people who aren’t in that demographic will still enjoy its bonkers story and charming characters, it’s definitely a game that will be appreciated more by those who understand its myriad of references.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Unusual Findings is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Unusual Findings was provided by the publisher.