What We Think
Though aesthetically, Marvin’s Mittens from Canadian developers Breakfall Games may appear to be geared towards a younger audience, there’s something on offer here that could be compelling for any audience, particularly those who fondly remember snow days from their childhood.
Marvin’s Mittens is based on a very simple premise: One day while Marvin is playing out in the woods close to his home, a sneaky, mysterious animal steals one of the mittens right off of Marvin’s hands! From there Marvin sets off on a classic platforming adventure to find his stolen mitten.
If your formative years were anything like mine, you actually looked forward to the winter season. There was something magical about it, being able to watch the world around you transform – I remember seeing the trees covered in sheets of brilliant crystallized ice, which made them look like diamond spider webs suspended from lofty perches. Marvin’s Mittens strives and succeeds in capturing this same kind of enchantment and nostalgia that kids like myself and many others once experienced.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland
As a fan of children’s novels, I have to say the Marvin’s Mittens absolutely nails the visual style appropriate to its setting. It forgoes the common vector or pixel-based graphics that so many indie games are using nowadays and goes straight for a sketchy, illustrative style reminiscent of the ones you would find in the books of Robert Munsch or Maurice Sendak.
From the moment Marvin bursts out of his front door, the player is greeted with deep smothering forests, lofty, ice-laden mountain tops, to expansive barren fields set in front of the shimmering Northern lights. Using a restrained color palette, each area manages to maintain its own visual identity, and easily conveys the feeling of experiencing something new every time you encounter it.
Best of all, every area you explore is filled with tiny details which bring your backyard wonderland to life. The ice shimmers, precipices drip with melting snow and caves are eerily illuminated with torches. All of these little touches help to immerse you in the world and engender sense of child-like wonder and curiosity. And that is very important in this case, because that is essentially what the game is all about.
It’s Like the Sound of Winter
The audio component to this game is equally beguiling; I couldn’t help but smile as Marvin exclaimed “yahoo” or “yippie” every time he discovered a useful item or went sailing through the sky. The child voice actor that they used is provides an adorable, well-suited match for the character, as no adult could accurately capture that same feeling of sincere glee.
The music is a mixture of upbeat adventurous themes that accompany your daily romps followed by a soothing lullaby as you go to sleep at night. All of it suits the game perfectly and is used harmoniously with the games events.
Building the World’s Biggest Snow Fort
In terms of gameplay, Marvin’s Mittens starts out utilizing standard platforming mechanics: The player leaps and bounds from ledge to ledge and slowly makes his way from screen to screen to until eventually arriving at a small village of dwarves (gnomes?) Here you find that it’s not only your mitten that have been stolen, but that all of the dwarves have had theirs taken as well! From here you learn that finding certain magical snowflakes will help you jump even higher, and this is where your adventure really…wait for it…takes off!
Once you gain the ability to find magical snowflakes, the game transforms from a traditional Mario-style platformer to more of a stripped down version of Metroid-style platforming. Rather than having to find new items to help you reach previously unreachable areas, you only need to collect more and more snowflakes. The more flakes you find, the higher you can jump. The higher you can jump, the more snowflakes you can find and so on. Though you can ignore searching for snowflakes for a while and still manage to progress through much of the game, eventually you will hit a point where you just can’t go any further and ledges become too high or too far and you will be forced to backtrack.
In From the Cold
The game includes a rather clever mechanic wherein it forces you to restart at the beginning (Marvin’s house) after a day of exploring. Marvin’s mother will call you back home for bedtime once the day has wound down. This serves not only as a device which will make you want to explore areas further, but also as a reminder that no matter how daring an adventure you are on, you are still just a child, and it’s all in good fun. While I was playing I actually found myself thinking things like “Wow, I’m a six-year-old child (presumably) exploring the depths of an undiscovered cave,” but once you’re called back to the house for a Hot Chocolate and bed time, the world makes sense again.
This feature is similar to that found in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, as you are only allowed to progress so far within a given time limit, however what you do manage to accomplish in that time limit will only let you push further the next day. Also, you can unlock “warp points” which allow you to shortcut your through the world, which definitely comes in handy as you reach the end of the game and have all but exhausted your snowflake-finding abilities.
The level design in this game feels targeted towards an older crowd, as certain key areas can require a fair amount of precision in movement. Though most of the game’s environments are easy to traverse, many parts will require quick reaction times and nimble keypad dexterity. Though the levels are well-paced and planned, there are times when the controls can feel a tad on the loose side, while other times you are forced to make “leap of faith” jumps. This can lead to some minor frustration, but nothing that should make you want to stop playing.
If a child were to be playing this game I would imagine them needing help to push past certain areas; though I didn’t have a problem with any of this, I did notice that it is in this one aspect that they may have trouble balancing what audience this game is actually intended for, as the games childlike aesthetic may not be enjoyed by everyone.
Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
Although platformers abound, especially in the indie game scene, there’s something unique about the overall feeling you come away with after playing Marvin’s Mittens. Its cotton candy graphical treatment and serene soundtrack are legitimately charming. The simple, yet well designed gameplay makes the exploration of Marvin’s world a pleasurable sojourn.
While the puerile treatment may turn some away, and in spite of some minor hiccups in the overall pacing and plotting of the platforming component, anyone who fondly remembers what it was like to be a kid, and just how much fun you could have playing in the snow, will love Marvin’s Mittens. It’s hard not to come away feeling warmer than a big mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. Especially because that hot chocolate may have been prepared by a winter gnome.