Oniria Crimes (Badland Publishing: “Oniria Crimes”) is a different spin on a point-and-click adventure. There are six cases that have you investigate and interrogate a crime scene in the dreamworld of Oniria. (In case it struck you as poor wording, it wasn’t: you interrogate the scene itself. Items and furniture give you statements about what they saw when the crime took place.) At each location you will identify three suspects and up to seven pieces of information about each of them (six plus their image), and once you have enough information you can point to two relevant pieces of information per suspect to ascribe guilt or innocence.
The artstyle is nice, with a voxel-based cyber-dream aesthetic. The writing is decent, showing a lot of worldcrafting behind the game. The environments are limited, and not as surreal as I expected for a dream-based game, though some of the lore and writing do have surreal elements. The main departure from a standard graphical adventure game was that there’s only one screen per crime (except for the train), and so each area is much more what-you-see-is-what-there-is. That’s a fine approach, and I don’t think it detracted from the overall design.
I liked the variety of the crimes presented. The inclusion of the minigames gives a nice breakup to the similarity of the levels, though some of them could have been better orchestrated. The other unique features per level were also nice additions. These level-differentiators are especially important as otherwise the interaction was mostly clicking and reading.
The game itself was a little bit of a rough start for me. The basic gameplay wasn’t entirely clear. When you start playing, you understand that you interrogate the items of the crime scene, and you learn that some will add choices to the suspects’ dossiers. But some of the dossier choices are a bit ambiguous. Others are too obviously canards. Even in retrospect, while some of the answers are easily identified, others seem arbitrary.
On the second level you can rotate the room (as you can later on the library level), but it wasn’t formally introduced and I didn’t try hitting the button until I already felt stuck, only to realize there were two other walls to interrogate. Other similar mechanics in other levels were properly introduced, so that made it feel like even more of an oversight.
For whatever reason (on Linux, at least) achievements only show up in Awakeland (i.e., after you close the game). This can leave you wondering if you’ve achieved something only to have several get added when you stop a play session. That’s not a huge deal from the player perspective, but if it’s fixable from the developer’s perspective, they should fix it. Getting the immediate feedback of achieving something is important from a psychology and design standpoint. You want to make sure that players who are rewarded by achievements get them as soon as they achieve the thing, as that makes them like your game more. (To be fair, I have seen this in a few other games before. It’s not clear why they do it this way, so perhaps there is some reason to it?)
One other thing to note: the library level uses a QR code to point to a URL that at the time of playing was no longer in service. Luckily a Steam Guide (Spoilers: Steam Community: “Oniria Crimes”: TheDeluxeTux: “Solutions and Achievements”) includes the relevant information from the missing page. As you can finish and revisit cases, after you finish the game you can go back and see that information without spoiling anything. But from a design standpoint, it’s best to avoid that entirely, even if it’s only for an achievement. Even if you know you’ll keep a website in operation indefinitely, people could still be playing offline.
Despite its flaws, the general shape of the game holds up. I think it’s a nice example of diversity in design helping to cover for some inadequacies. The parts I didn’t like or felt were incomplete got overshadowed by what the game got right, and I felt at home in the gameplay even when I knew it wasn’t quite where it should be.
I got all the achievements over about nine hours. It’s a fun game that begs to see more depth to the world than what the developer was able to bring. Making games is hard, so I understand the limited scope of the world compared to the lore, but I hope to see more titles from them in the future. If you like the genre, Oniria Crimes is worth a look.