Flying Cafe for Semianimals
Flying Cafe for Semianimals
Cradle is a Venus fly-trap of a game. It lures you in with its sweet scent, its promise of nectar, before revealing itself to be something altogether different and far less pleasant. It aims to tell a grand, dark science fiction tale through ingenious use of a small yet detailed world, and for a while it looks like it might pull it off. Unfortunately, its storytelling aspirations are thwarted by tedious delivery and action that shifts from enjoyably mundane to bland and repetitive.
Much of Cradle takes place in a single location - a ramshackle yurt on the Mongolian Steppe. Your character awakes inside the yurt having conveniently lost his memory because of reasons, and the only clue to his identity is a handwritten note from an individual named Tabaha, instructing you make breakfast for someone named Ongots.
It's a low-key beginning. But it's also an enticing one. There's something about performing everyday tasks in a strange environment that's immediately engaging. Cradle emphasises this via the sheer detail of the yurt. Your colourful abode is packed with drawers and cupboards to rummage through, and littered with items that are either comfortingly familiar or curiously alien in their purpose. Beyond the door of the yurt lies the vast expanse of the Steppe itself, which stretches to the horizon in one direction, and leads to a mysterious dome-like structure in the other.
It's a world that feels distinctly lived-in, beautifully blending the domestic and the strange. What's more, through the deliberately vague recipe for Ongots' breakfast, Flying Cafe urge you to explore it from the outset. Cradle is essentially a first-person adventure game, with puzzles that require you to "combine" objects by picking one object up and clicking on another. To give an early example, Ongots' breakfast requires you to slice some fruit, which you do by picking up a kitchen knife and clicking on the fruit. These puzzles are framed around a simple, clear logic that tickles your brain without irritating it.
The balance isn't perfect; a few of the objects are downright obscure. Finding the salt proved embarrassingly difficult. In addition, the controls aren't exactly ideal. Dropping an item sends it vertically downwards, while throwing an item is performed with the force of bowling a cricket ball. This makes it almost impossible to "place" items on surfaces or back where you found them.
The yurt also has lots of nooks and crannies, so it's quite easy to lose items underneath shelves or wardrobes. Should you tear through the place like an excited toddler searching for her favourite toy, you may well regret it later. Nevertheless, this granular level of interaction is highly compelling. Rifling through the yurt for the appropriate item and then figuring out how to use it is good clean fun, and each task flows organically one from the other. If the game focussed on such systems exclusively, I'd probably have enjoyed it considerably more.