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  • John Bush

Game Review #483: Town of Light (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewer: John B

Developer: Publisher: Wired Productions Category: Adventure Release Date: 2.7.2020 Price: $9.99

Watch the Trailer

Buy The Town of Light: Deluxe Edition from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.

The Town of Light for the Nintendo Switch is exactly the kind of game I cannot help but love for its ambitions, which makes its many shortcomings all the more painful to enumerate. Originally released for the PC in 2016, the Switch is the last major platform to welcome the game to its library. The game is built around a devastatingly well-constructed story that highlights the terrifying, inhumane, and downright inhuman history of society’s mistreatment of the mentally ill. Sadly, it suffers from many technical issues that prevent the player from being able to focus on the powerful story unfolding before them.

Society Hs Failed Renee T.

The Town of Light follows Renee T., a woman with a history of mental illness revisiting the asylum to which she had been committed as a sixteen-year-old girl in the 1930s. In the present day, the asylum has closed and fallen into ruin. Players guide Renee through the asylum’s buildings, where she reconstructs memories of that time that have been lost to her. Together with Renee, the player slowly uncovers the rampant neglect, indifference, and numerous, unforgiveable abuses to which she was subjected in the name of what passed for “medicine” at the time – which is to say nothing of the neglect, indifference, and reprehensible abuses to which she was subjected through the cruelty of the asylum’s staff and her life before being committed.

The story is hard to stomach as you experience it, but paints an accurate, important picture of the stigma historically attributed to the mentally ill and the inhumanity with which they have been treated. Furthermore, it specifically addresses societal issues regarding believing women and children in addition to the mentally ill. Renee’s doctors make it clear that they do not believe many of her experiences specifically because she is female, or mentally ill, or often both, which only deepens her traumas which in turn increases the barbarity with which she is treated by her doctors. It’s a nauseating cycle that ultimately determines the path of Renee’s life. By the time the game’s final narrator delivers the last line of dialogue, players are as beaten and hollow as Renee; “her life has been thrown away. And Nobody did a thing to try to avoid this.”

The Devs Have Failed Their Own Powerful Story

Unfortunately, the underlying game in The Town of Light does little justice to Renee’s important, compelling story. The adventure elements of the game are very simple – the term “walking simulator” comes to mind, and despite the game’s grave warnings against stigmatizing terms, The Town of Light does succumb to all the negative connotations associated with that maligned genre. Players walk around, looking at leftover documents and items that help Renee piece her memories together. The game does a decent job of guiding players to their next objectives – or at least it does when the game works properly.

During my playthrough, I experienced several instances of some lines of expository dialogue failing to play. I know this because I had to go to video walkthroughs multiple times where I saw audio cues play that did not play when they were supposed to. The game theoretically pre-empts this issue with a built-in hint button to make it easier for players struggling to find what to do next which, again, is great when it works! Unfortunately, on several occasions the game got stuck on one hint and would display a hint from several objectives prior instead of the proper current hint. Going to the menu and restarting the chapter from the beginning would reset the hints so they would display properly – until the hints bugged out again, that is. Furthermore, it would still necessitate replaying parts of the chapter I had already completed.

Dumbed Down for the Switch

Go watch a video showcasing gameplay on another platform like the PC or PS4, and now look at this gameplay preview I recorded for the Switch. I assume you noticed the gigantic drop in graphical quality? The Switch port of The Town of Light features massively downgraded visuals which look pixelated and generally just… bad. It doesn’t look like a game developed this decade – heck, it looks like it was developed for the original Playstation. I have to wonder why the devs thought porting the game to the Switch was worth diminishing their art so greatly.

Play it Somewhere, Just Maybe Not on the Switch

The Town of Light: Deluxe Edition tells a powerful story worth hearing. Sadly, the total package on the Switch is not the best way to experience it. From audio clips that fail to play to a hint button that frequently gives old hints to graphics that would barely belong on a game originally released for Windows 95, the Switch port does the game no favors. I realize now I haven’t yet even mentioned the graphical stuttering and slowdown during the game’s more complex (and frequently most interesting) sequences, but let’s just say it happens a lot and leave it at that. This is a story worth experiencing and it details a history worth remembering. But you’ll want to consider experiencing it on a different platform, if you are able.

Score: 4/10


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*A game code was provided for review purposes

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