Pendula Swing: The Complete Journey – Review
Follow Genre: Point-and-click adventure
Developer: Valiant Game Studio AB
Publisher: Valiant Game Studio AB
Platform: PC, Switch
Tested on: Switch

Pendula Swing: The Complete Journey – Review

Site Score
5.5
Good: Fantastic 1920s aesthetic
Bad: Lacks overall focus, shallow gameplay experience
User Score
2.5
(2 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 2.5/10 (2 votes cast)

Pendula Swing is a title that debuted on Steam two years ago and is now seeking to expand its audience on the Switch. The premise of this episodic point-and-click adventure title certainly is intriguing, placing familiar fantasy races in the American roaring twenties, but whether the game does anything interesting with its setup is another story altogether. Is this a surprise hit or is it a swing and a miss?

Story

Set in a fantasy world that is analogue with our own roaring twenties, Pendula Swing presents players with a more modern interpretation of the archetypical fantasy world we’ve come to know and love from other fantasy settings. Yes, there are orcs, dwarves and elves here, but they are not clad in chainmail and robes, instead wearing top hats and flapper dresses. The central character in our tale is the dwarven hero Brialynne. After a long career as an adventurer, which culminated in an epic battle with her nemesis, the foul orc Nakirik, she is now enjoying her well-earned retirement alongside her companion Taheena. Her quiet life receives quite the shake-up when her axe is stolen by goblin burglars. When Brialynne gives chase to the green-skinned menace, she finds that the outside world is a very different place now. 350 years have passed since our heroine retired and now she finds herself in a very different world than the medieval one she once knew. What starts out as a quest to find an axe becomes a fish-out-of-water story, as our heroine tries to find her bearings in a society that is completely new and alien to her.

With seven episodic chapters, Pendula Swing is very much a story-driven experience that ultimately feels less like an adventure title and more like a tale about inclusion and acceptance. Developer Valiant Game Studio attempts to deliver social commentary and while we can certainly stand behind the core of the message, we have to admit that more often than not some of the ways things are presented feel forced and unnatural. This is a very LGBTQ+-friendly title, with the protagonist herself having a same-sex partner, and of course, other topics like racism are key story elements as well. After all, Pendula Swing literally throws a bunch of fantasy races in the mix, many of which don’t really mesh well in other fictional depictions. Perhaps the most jarring thing here is that modern-day mindsets and messages are presented not just through fantasy characters but also as part of the 1920s, which feels somewhat historically inaccurate, to say the least. We don’t necessarily disagree with WHAT is being told here, but the hamfisted way that these stories are told didn’t really convince us emotionally, which is a shame.

Graphics

We can imagine that the 1920s aesthetics will draw people to Pendula Swing. After all, the character art is simply gorgeous, and the isometric 3D environments look great as well. We were less impressed with the in-game character models, but although they weren’t as detailed as we would like, they didn’t look so bad that they annoyed us. The opening cutscene, which sets up the story, is styled to resemble a rubber hose cartoon, but the game doesn’t quite capture the ‘dirty’ look of actual cartoons from that era, something Cuphead successfully nailed. However, we can overlook the latter, as what’s presented here is close enough to convey the idea of what the game wants it to be.

Sound

As you’d expect from a title set in the ’20s that has the word “swing” in the title, the soundtrack is filled with vintage jazz, although the music doesn’t limit itself to just this genre. You’ll get to hear other tunes in other parts of the game, such as the calm and relaxing tunes that play while Brialynne is at home on her farm. There is no voice acting present, although characters will mumble during dialogue scenes.

Gameplay

While Pendula Swing is presented as an episodic point-and-click adventure, there is one major departure from other games in the genre, and that is that there is no main story arc here. Instead, what you get here is a series of loosely interconnected smaller stories, dealing with things like discrimination and polyamory. The absence of a main story isn’t necessarily a negative, depending on how you approach the game, but ultimately, the lack of a story climax left us unsatisfied. On the upside, there are plenty of choices that influence the outcome of certain storylines, and although Brialynne is happily married at the start of the game, there are romance options as well for those seeking to take their adventure in a different direction.

In terms of actual point-and-click gameplay, Pendula Swing doesn’t really come into its own either. There are no real puzzles or brainteasers here -you aren’t even required to combine items from your inventory, which is a staple of the genre. In fact, you don’t even get to use the items that you pick up on your quest for anything creative. All you do with these objects is hand them over to NPCs whenever the story requires this. Whenever the game presents you with something that is supposed to resemble a puzzle, this typically simply involves picking the right dialogue options in order to persuade an NPC to do something. The hardest challenge that Pendula Swing provided us with was to seek out the password to enter a speakeasy… and afterwards we discovered that we could even skip this by simply walking through the backdoor.

The lack of a main storyline highlights the overall lack of focus. There are a lot of small storylines to keep track of and it can be very easy to get lost in the sheer amount of side stories that you play a part in. It’s not uncommon to lose track of the whereabouts of certain NPCs simply because the game keeps piling more characters and plotlines on top of one another. Adding to this is that inventory management is handled very poorly: as you can imagine, having this many plotlines means you’ll need a plethora of objects to hand out to NPCs, but your inventory space is limited, making it awkward to juggle between the stuff you need for a specific side story.

It would appear that Valiant Game Studio got lost in wanting to create an idyllic world that faces the same problems that our own world faces… but where the main character actually finds a solution for these issues. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is a game about our heroine completely abolishing racism and discrimination against LGBTQ+ minorities, but Pendula Swing is all about delivering a specific message. Had the game had any merit as an actual game, providing us with something equal to Daedalic’s Dark Eye games, perhaps we wouldn’t have felt as unimpressed with it.

Conclusion

Throughout the four hours we spent playing through the game, we never really felt Pendula Swing come into its own. We thoroughly enjoyed the aesthetics, and the fish-out-of-water setup had some promise, but ultimately, the game failed to deliver on gameplay and lacked overall focus. Combined with social commentary that felt out of place in a 1920s setting, Pendula Swing, unfortunately, didn’t live up to our expectations. There is a specific audience that is going to adore and defend this game due to the message that it attempts to convey, but when looking at Pendula Swing objectively, it’s simply too shallow in terms of gameplay to be considered a good point-and-click adventure title.

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Rating: 2.5/10 (2 votes cast)
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Pendula Swing: The Complete Journey - Review, 2.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
SebastiaanRaats


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