I'm always a bit embarrassed when people start talking about their favourite bands because they passionately start wheeling out names like The Smiths and how they love that rare b-side they found in a charity shop while dressed in their favourite cardigan, and I'm like, yeah I liked that song by Puff Daddy when I was 14, and they look at me like I've just thrown up. I'm just not that musically cool. When people start talking indie, I shut up, which is why I thought a game celebrating the 80s British indie scene would be lost on me. But I was surprised.
I do very much like logic puzzles, you see, the ones where you fill in the blanks using a mind-squeezing process of elimination alongside the few clues you have. And that's what you do here, in Family: you fill out the names of band members on a rock family tree using a variety of clues.
You can listen to the band's music, either on demand or on a radio station in the background - coincidentally where one of the band members is being interviewed - and you can look at some album art and read band descriptions on the family tree. The most revealing clues, though, are given in written accounts like interviews, memos, memoirs and more. Yet because they're so revealing they are rationed, unlocked bit-by-bit every time you correctly fill in five band members' names. And that's the loop: study the clues, fill in some names and hope to hit five, and then do it all again with those locked in place. It feels like a musical spin on Return of the Obra Dinn - sudoku with line-ups rather than nautical murder.
What I like about this logic puzzle approach is how it encourages you to poke around. You might be trying to choose between a male or female singer for a band, for instance, in which case listening to the song will put you straight. Sometimes even the album art will do. And in poking around you uncover the charm of Family. You read written accounts of low-key band requests for Wispa chocolate bars and Space Raider crisps, and read mag-style interviews about gifted but nightmare songwriters who people admire but absolutely can't work with, and it all begins to build a picture of an unmistakable time and place.
But the real star is the music, which is recorded to such a high quality it could be the real thing. There's a funny comment on the game's Itch page where someone admitted to Googling the bands to check out what else they'd written but naturally couldn't find anything because the bands aren't real. What an idiot! Imagine doing that, ha ha, ha ha, ha... I did wonder why I couldn't find anything for Dova Pavlova or Casta Nyet.
That it's original music written by the same person who made the game, Tim Sheinman, is even more impressive. It's a classy package, it really is. The music isn't endless, there aren't albums' worth of songs here, only around nine tracks a couple of minutes long, but it's enough. Heck, the game is only an hour long and it's free (with the option of paying) so it's a remarkably generous package anyway. And I like the length. I don't think it needs to be any longer. Any longer and it would distort the nice shape the game has and cloud the clear family theme.
Really, Family is a brief submersion into a time gone by, and solving the puzzle is secondary, a way to keep you submersed. It's a game about relaxing in a warm memory, either your own or in my case, someone else's. And you know what? The Smiths: finally I'm beginning to see why.
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