RE:CALL is an interesting pixel art puzzler from Argentinian single dev Maitan_69 and publisher Whitethorn Games. In this world, every person is a stylish badass with attitude, and the narrative is a complex one with lots of twists and betrayals that come with any good noir story. Combine all that with a clever puzzle mechanic and we have the makings of an indie darling, but it’s when the game attempts nuanced emotions that it loses the plot entirely.
In RE:CALL, you play as Bruno Gallahger: a twenty-something slacker for whom trouble seems to follow wherever he goes. It isn’t until he is invited to a party with some cool kids that he finds himself in the middle of an assassination plot that goes deeper than he could ever imagine. It’s obvious that Maitan_69 wears his inspirations on his sleeve as this is a classic detective film trope, but it works in ways that make the game as campy as it is enticing.
The game’s story is separated by chapters, with each providing a singular environment to explore and figure out. Every level provides a new mystery for our hero to solve. You do so in a top-down pixel art presentation, moving not unlike an old school SNES game. You talk to NPCs and interact with items in the environment until you reach an event that causes the story to move forward. Once the event plays out, such as a murder or a crime, afterwards you are sent back in time to the start of the map with all your information and items intact. This is delightfully reflected in the environment changing as you rewrite history with your newfound knowledge. Changing who you interact with can alter paintings and moving items around can change how characters interact with the world. It’s got a real Back To The Future vibe.
The main crux of the game is that by using information gained, performing different actions, or choosing different paths, you can eventually figure out how to solve the event and continue the story. The events act as complex puzzle boxes for you to work through step by step. Sometimes, you’ll figure out the solution to the crime, only to find that the crime had a second phase, adding new wrinkles to the environment or adding new clues to solve. Breaking the story into chapters makes for perfect single-serving riddles. The game is a perfect pick up and play pixel art sudoku.
The cliches run rampant through the game’s relatively short run time, with character names like: Chester Make Believe, Police Chief De La Soul and Magnus Delorean. I found it charming at first, but I definitely rolled my eyes more than a few times as the story proceeded. Along with that, the character dialogue similarly bounces between thematic and engrossing to cringey at a breakneck pace. It’s a tough balancing act to maintain, and RE:CALL seems to fumble it from time to time.
Another stumbling block for RE:CALL is the story’s emotional stakes. The questions surrounding the mysterious Dominik New Order are front and center but there’s a secondary theme of repressed childhood trauma that’s handled with the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer. The game spends a lot of extra effort bullying our main character for what feels like absolutely no reason, to then bring it all to a haphazard emotional resolution seemingly out of nowhere. I can see a place for this kind of story, but within the context of RE:CALL it comes off as a needless, last-minute addition for credibility’s sake. It’s as if RE:CALL wouldn’t be an indie game without a deeper, tear-jerking emotional discovery, and in this case it feels worse for the inclusion.
At the end of the day, RE:CALL is a sleek solo-dev indie title that provides a new history-rewriting game mechanic. Each puzzle acts as its own bite-sized puzzle box for you to analyze and explore while the story provides a lot of fascinating noir-themed goodness. It does swing and miss at a sentimental secondary story, but that doesn’t prevent this game from being a refreshing new indie I’d recommend anyone to try.