Review – Norco
I’ve been playing point-and-click adventures for decades. My love of the genre started with sierra’s King’s Quest series, and has continued until present day. They’re not all winners, but there have been plenty that have managed to leave their imprint on my mind over the years, such as the beloved Monkey Island series, Lost in Play, and darkly whimsical Röki. I was immediately intrigued by the trailer I saw for Norco, the debut game for indie developer, Geography of Robots. It piqued my curiosty, mainly because of its striking art style and odd premise. I decided to give it a shot, and have never wondered more in my life as to what the hell I just played.
As I’ve said, the premise is pretty bizarre. Set in an alternate version of Norco, Louisiana, our protagonist learns that her brother is missing after their mother’s passing. You travel back to your childhood home, searching for clues as to your brother’s whereabouts. Along the way, she’ll join up with a motley cast of characters, including (but not limited to) rogue security android, a staring toy monkey, and a drunken detective in clown makeup. I swear, I’m not making any of this up.
Norco has a truly unique blending of its tone and genres. It starts off as a family drama, twists into a mystery, then becomes a sci-fi adventure, before finally dissolving into a tale that’s bat shit crazy. It’s a game that could have very easily become a gigantic mess, but somehow, it works. I don’t want to go into specifics about its storyline or wide array of colorful characters, as I do think it’s best if you go in knowing as little about what it’s actually about as possible. All I can say is buckle up for one crazy ride!
As far as the gameplay, Norco is your standard point-and-click adventure, with some occasional minigames thrown in. None of the minigames are terribly complex, or even remotely difficult, but they do offer a nice change in the traditional point-and-click formula. The minigames are just as strange as the rest of the game, with turn-based brawls being the most normal of the bunch. The rest range from things like having a staring contest with cats and toy monkeys, to guiding a small boat through the swamps during a stage play narrated by an alligator shadow puppet. Once again, I’m not making any of this up.
Norco‘s central concept might be off the rails crazy, but it’s art design is stellar. It has some of the most gorgeous pixel art I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t necessarily adopt the classic pixel art approach found in games like Unusual Findings, but rather creates a somewhat more realistic looking game through its art design. You can really see the grime and filth that covers just about everyone and everything in this dilapidated, alternative version of Louisiana.
Even the character models are striking, being twisted takes on human models. The android, Million, is by far the most beautiful character in the game, whereas the shady Santa you can find begging for money will give you nightmares. My only minor gripe is that the cursor, as well as some of the effects in the minigames, are so rudimentary that they provide a stark contrast to the otherwise immaculate visuals.
The sound design is another standout, most specifically its soundtrack. Gewgawly I’s post-industrial electronica score pairs perfectly with Norco‘s whole Southern Gothic aesthetic. It’s tense, and melancholic, like most of the game itself. A few of the tunes stuck with me for a while after playing, which is telling to just how impactful the score is.
I knew I was going to in for an interesting ride when I started Norco, but I had no idea just how insane it would get. I do honestly mean insane, but in the best of ways. I’ve never had a game make me ask “what the hell is going on?” quite as much as Norco. It’s an incredibly sorrowful tale that borders on being straight up depressing at times, despite its wacky characters, but shockingly, I still found myself enjoying it. It’s bizarre concepts and bonkers story kept me captivated until the very end. I highly recommend it to fans of the genre, just try to go in as blind as possible.
The pixel art is absolutely remarkable. My only minor gripe is that the cursor, as well as some of the effects in the minigames, a almost too rudimentary.
Your standard point-and-click fare with some occasionally, incredibly simple minigames. Norco is much more about the journey, than overly complex gameplay.
The soundtrack pairs perfectly with Norco‘s whole Southern Gothic, electronica aesthetic.
Fun Factor: 8.0
The story goes from intriguing to absolutely bonkers. I had to keep playing to see where it was going.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Norco is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Norco was provided by the publisher.