Genre: 2D Retro | Interactive visual novel | Adventure
Modes: Single Player
Developed by: LCB Game Studio
Published by: Chorus Worldwide Games
Release date: April 28, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC (steam)
Platform I played on: PlayStation 5
Thanks to LCB Game Studio and Chorus Worldwide Games for the review code!
What immediately caught my attention to Varney Lake was it's cool, 2D retro pixel design. The further I read about what Varney Lake was about, the more I suspected this would be something worth checking out. While the story wasn't as in depth as I thought it would be, it does have replay value to sink your teeth into (hehe). The gameplay is fairly simple, though with some minor issues, Varney Lake is overall a fun experience for what it is. Let's jump into why;
Strange Things are happening
Varney Lake is the second title in the Pixel Pulps anthology series, following from Mothmen 1966. Varney Lake takes place in the 1950's as three friends, Jimmy, Christine and Doug, are on summer vacation. Just three kids who are also in a self made club also known as the 'only child club', looking for things to do while the suns out. Whether it be playing a game, going to the market or fishing, it's up to you, as the player, to decide. Nothing too sinister, right? Well, that is until they are chased by bullies, and accidently stumble upon a strange man that turns out to be a blood sucking vampire. As you can imagine, it's not the usual summer they were expecting. The vampire, who's name is Liszt, ends up becoming friends with them. All seems well until one night that changes, and shatters the friendship group forever.
The story is presented as a fractured narrative, and is dialogue text based only.
The narrative jumps between that summer in the 1950's, and then jumping to the current time in the early 1980's. When you jump to the 80's for the first time, you play as paranormal investigator, Lou Hill, as he attempts to put the pieces together to solve what truly happened at Varney Lake all those years ago. With the help of the kids (well, they're adults now) as they recall how they felt, and what they thought had happened. Without going into any major story spoiler territory, there are a few twists along the way to keep you engaged. Also throughout the game are a few references to Mothmen 1966, but as I hadn't played the first game in the series I was a bit lost, but I still kinda got the gist.
At the time of writing this review, and again without going into any spoiler territory, I know there are four different endings you can get. As I've played through this twice, I did make different choices that I thought would impact the ending on my second playthrough, but I managed to get the same ending as I did on my first playthrough.
Although I still enjoyed the story of Varney Lake, I have to admit I felt some sections of the story felt a bit unfinished. It's a shame, because had these sections been fleshed out a bit more, it would have made for an even better experience. Since it's part of an anthology series however, I predict that Varney Lake will likely pop up again in the next instalment of the series.
Cloud watching or fishing?
The gameplay is fairly simple. You click X to continue dialogue, you use the analog stick to pick an option, and that's pretty much it. Anyone can jump into this game, which is always good thing that more people can play it. As far as choices go, it's nothing too major (or is it?). You'll get to choose from activities e.g fishing, cloud watching, going to the market, and some dialogue options.
My biggest issue with the gameplay however was the mini games. They felt a bit messy, and I have to admit, pretty confusing at first. Thankfully you can have the rules explained to you over again, or you can just skip the mini game completely if you wish. It's a shame, because there was more room for this to be fun, rather than confusing and tedious, but I digress.
2D Retro visuals and soundtrack
The visuals, as I mentioned earlier in my review, are what initially caught my attention. There I was, scrolling through my e-mails when I saw the words:
A Quaint 1950s Summer Vacation Visits Vampires in Varney Lake, and saw that it was a retro 2D pixel title. Immediately I was intrigued, and I had to play it. It genuinely feels like a lot of craft and dedication went into this design, and it honestly feels like a 1980's pixel game. The sound design and soundtrack is chiptune, which is of course is part of the retro pixel aesthetic.
Glitches | Issues | Bugs
Thankfully I didn't come across any glitches, bugs or issues for that matter. However, as I say in my reviews, that doesn't mean there aren't any, I just didn't encounter any personally. I don't know if there would be anything major considering it's quite a small game but still, you never know.
Length | Replay ability
The story is quite short, roughly 40-60 mins. Though as I mentioned previously, there is room for a few playthroughs, especially considering there are a few different choice options, as well as endings. As I mentioned previously, I've only seen two different endings from when I played it, then when I watched a playthrough on YouTube. If you're looking for a challenge to figure out how to see all these endings and mop up some trophies/achievements, this game can keep you busy for a bit.
Despite some issues I had with the game overall, Varney Lake is still a fairly competent game that delivers some cool, paranormal lore. Whether you've played the first game in this series, or are looking for something new to get into, I can recommend Varney Lake. I'm pretty keen for the next title in the Pixel Pulps anthology, until Bahnsen Knights releases though, try not to run into any Mothmen or Vampires.