tiny&Tall: Gleipnir, the new episodic point-and-click adventure game from French illustrator and inexperienced game developer Antoine Piers, known by the alias 'pins', is one of the few 'funny' games I've played that gets it right. You might not expect much because, on the surface, this looks like a mediocre adventure game, and the first few minutes of playing show a frustrating lack of contemporary genre features.
There's no double-click mechanic, for example, to quickly get around the screen and access other locations, meaning moving around the larger settings takes a while. And finding items quickly descended into pixel-hunting, with objects not standing out enough from the cluttered backgrounds (something that does improve as the game goes on). But I kept playing and eventually found myself putting these kinds of mechanical concerns to one side, mostly due to its expressive characters and the intriguing central premise.
You play as two hapless blacksmiths, the small, optimistic Tiny and the lanky and pessimistic Tall. They have been tasked by the Norse gods to track down a list of rare and magical items to create a link able to hold the mythical wolf Fenrir, who has escaped and is threatening to devour the world. Along the way, you will need to explore a series of beautiful low-fi environments to find tools and other useful objects, used to solve inventory-based puzzles and progress towards your goal.
Tiny is unaffected by the hardships of the world and excited by the prospect of adventure, Tall is cynical and anti-social. Essentially, they are the straight man and the fool, except here the interactivity does a lot to reinforce these two distinct archetypes. You control both, but Tiny takes on the majority of the work. That’s in spite of Tall immediately knowing all the solutions to the puzzles that you encounter, indicated by the in-game hint system whereby you can him for clues if you get stuck.
It quickly becomes clear that Tall is a reluctant participant in this quest, and his range of interactions help to reflect that. He will refuse to pick up certain items if they look gross or smell bad, offload most of the work to Tiny, and won’t speak to anyone until he absolutely needs to. In fact, he only ever really comes in useful due to his size, with his gangly arms being able to grab those items that are out of Tiny’s reach.
Tiny, on the other hand, can talk to anyone and will sometimes even get caught up in conversation with NPCs, meaning you have to switch to Tall. He can also use his small stature to enter into small spaces and seems oblivious to the danger he is in through travelling into the unknown. It’s this simple-mindedness and unrestrained optimism that often makes him the subject of ridicule from his partner.
Misdirection is also used to great effect, particularly in the interactions with others. At one point, when Tiny enters a bear’s lair, he comes across a ‘ghost writer’ whose body you can see inside a bear’s skeleton nearby. In conversation, Tiny tells him about his own encounter with a ferocious bear, in which he threw an adventuring book at it to protect himself. The writer asks whether this approach worked, and Tiny tells him it didn’t. To which the ghost responds that this is because bears are “elitist and snobbish” and “not too fond of self-help books”. It’s a ridiculous joke, but the kind of unexpected dip into the surreal that defines the game's humour.
Perhaps the best example is how the game handles the opening of doors. The game's jokes mostly follow a three-act structure, with them being easily translatable into the three or four panel format that you typically find in web comics and cartoon strips.
For instance, our heroes open a door expecting a specific outcome, such as locating a bear tamer. That’s panel one. Only for them to discover that there is something unexpected behind the door like an angry bear; panel two and three. Then the last panel and the punchline is a final reaction shot, with the camera focusing on the expressive, albeit crudely drawn, faces of the main protagonists. There’s little set-up necessary and the jokes are over in an instant, meaning that if they don’t land with the audience, the next one will probably be just around the corner to pick up the slack.
tiny&Tall: Gleipnir's basics will be familiar to any point-and-clicker player. But where this shines is its humour and the way it delivers those jokes: it might not be the shiniest game out there, but it's one of the funniest.