Rest assured, this adventure isn't phoned in
It’s an undeniable truth: we all spend a lot of time on our phones. For such an obvious fact, it’s surprisingly difficult to find media with a nuanced take on our frequent phone usage. The easiest approach is to just say, “phones bad,” but that makes you sound like an old man yelling at a cloud. More to the point, it’s inaccurate, as the truth is far more complicated. Developer Serenity Forge certainly understands the complexity of this issue, and nimbly tackles it in Land of Screens; a beautiful story about genuine connection wrapped in a gorgeous looking package.
Land of Screens is a point-and-click adventure about a woman named Holland who recently broke up with her boyfriend of five years. Feeling alone and overwhelmed by the storm of social media discussion centered around her newly single status, she sets out on a mission: forge real connections with the people around her. This means getting them off of their phones through whatever means necessary (and of course, by that I mean speaking to them face to face.) Holland aims to do this by coaxing old friends to play volleyball, hyping up a crowd for a band she’s never heard of, and more.
Land of Screens’ gameplay consists entirely of walking around and talking to various characters in an attempt to get them off phones and engaged in real-life activities. This means you’ll speak with everyone multiple times, as tidbits of conversation with one character can provide clues on how to pull someone else away from their screen.
Moment to moment gameplay is quite simple, as it’s really just moving around and pressing the A button, and it’s never all too challenging to figure out the next step. While straightforward, it still works fantastically due to the great satisfaction you get from figuring out how to reach people. The dialogue is so witty that you look forward to seeing what everyone has to say, and it’s great fun deducing who can provide the resource or rationale to connect with another character. You feel as if you are getting to know them just as Holland is. Truthfully, the lack of challenge actually works in favor of the game’s theme: talking face-to-face with people can be fun, and it’s never as difficult as you think it will be.
From a visual standpoint, Land of Screens looks absolutely gorgeous. Adorable two-dimensional characters are placed on top of stunningly vibrant backgrounds, making everything pop with bold colors and bright lighting. The flat, almost paper-like quality of the people and objects gives the entire game a sort of storybook appearance, making everything feel even warmer and more comfortable. I almost felt nostalgic during my playthrough, even though this was my first time playing. Overall, the game’s art direction is simply fantastic. The way the screen distorts when Holland looks at her phone is an especially brilliant touch, reminding us that the world of social media is quite different from the one we actually inhabit.
The most impressive thing about this game, however, is not the gameplay or the visuals. Instead, it’s what the game is trying to say. Land of Screens may expose numerous issues with people being glued to their phones, but it is careful to point out that if we feel disconnected or alone, phones themselves are not the whole problem. In fact, phones lead to many positive moments in the narrative. Holland’s phone allows her to stay in touch with her family, arrange meetings to reconnect with old friends, and even begin to forge new romantic connections. Land of Screens takes care to tell us that there is value in the way phones allow us to communicate with those not in our immediate vicinity.
That said, Land of Screens makes it abundantly clear that who we are in person and who we are on social media are not the same, and knowing someone through social media alone does not equate to really knowing them. This theme becomes most evident when Holland attempts to reconnect with some friends from high school. They can each recall specific interactions that they had through social media, even ones dating back years ago, but they are unaware of important events that have happened in each other’s lives. Holland remembers muting a friend who was spoiling a movie years ago, and as a result, she missed an invitation to his wedding. Her own breakup falls into this category as well. Other characters express shock at how suddenly the split happened, but eventually Holland reveals that the relationship had been heading south for a long time. She’d purposely kept the dark elements of her relationship hidden on social media, presenting a façade of happiness until she couldn’t hide it any longer.
At the start of the story, we feel as confused about what Holland needs as she does. She tries desperately to stay away from the gossipy posts her phone constantly sends her way. At the same time, as much as Holland strives to avoid thinking about her breakup, it becomes clear she has to confront her feelings in order to work through them. Holland doesn’t need a barrage of opinions from a swarm of faces she barely knows. What she needs is to be with the people who really know and care for her. Land of Screens tells us that the best way to start moving on is to take a step back, reconnect with loved ones, and start exploring the path ahead.
Land of Screens is wonderful, plain and simple. Taking about three hours to complete, it isn’t the longest game around, but for $6, the length feels reasonable. Land of Screens perfectly paces the experience and goes on for about as long as it needs to. If you’re looking for a fun, quick experience that just might leave you with a different perspective, Land of Screens could be exactly what you’re looking for.
Brendan Trump is a features writer and game reviewer for GoNintendo. His opinions about everything are entirely correct.