Perfect Tides by Three Bees
I turned seventeen in the year 2000, which made me slightly older than Perfect Tides protagonist Mara Whitefish. As a misanthropic, sullen, unpopular boy who didn’t have any confidence around girls or sport, I remember all too well my own feelings of alienation, loneliness, confusion, and a reliance on early (dial-up!) internet for companionship, no matter how fleeting or fantastical the relationship might have proven to be.
Now, I didn’t lose my father growing up, as Mara has, two years earlier, when the story begins about a month before the end of the school year. Living with her numbed mother and aggressively unhappy older brother, aspiring writer (like me!) Mara lives on a tourist trap island – referred to at one juncture as “gay Disneyland” because it is a major draw in the summertime for well-to-do gay men and women – that has no cars and can only be reached by ferry.
The Young Girl and the Sea
Three Bees’ thoughtful game is designed and executed as a heartfelt throwback point-and-click game. While it certainly is, it regularly leans much more on character than puzzles as we navigate young Mara’s very relatable teenage difficulties and yearning for change in trying personal circumstances with authentic humor and very honest writing.
Indeed, Perfect Tides at its most incisive and compelling is more accurately described as a visual novel with distractions. And, in truth, Mara’s oft bored and aimless wandering around the little island – she’s one of the few “year-rounders” who don’t depart during the off-seasons – mirrored my own feelings during the game, while obtuse puzzles slowed my progress.
Where’s the Point?
As with so point-and-click games through the years – and certainly, those adventures of this type at the turn of the century and earlier – awkward puzzles are the order of the day. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor am I a huge fan of this kind of padding, so some of you may not find it as frustrating as I did to have to repeatedly click on literally everything in a room in order to discover what may be useful now or later on.
The game excels in Mara’s struggles, thanks to the witty narration and a sense of deep vulnerability that we can all understand at that age. The moment-to-moment rollercoaster of emotions during a day is wonderfully and admirably brought to bear here for her. Perfect Tides does an exceptional job in reminding me of how, during those crucial formative years, many seemingly minor events can be blown out of all proportion, so that innocuous slights are devastating and a kind word makes you happy to be alive, often within the same dramatic beat of the heart.
With a gentle and suitable 8-bit soundtrack, the Perfect Tides is about languid atmosphere and gradual world-building in a very subtle way. The world that Mara inhabits is of course to her pointless and restrictive, but to an outsider looking in with some age and wisdom and perspective, the place and its inhabitants are a fascinating mess of small-town myopia and dream-like potential. In fact, such is the game’s original mise-en-scene that I wished, by the end of the credits, that it could continue and grow as some sort of Netflix Original.
All in all, Perfect Tides is a niche game from different times for a tale in different times – that keeps repeating and is, therefore, timeless – and if you’re willing to grind through the cumbersome puzzles (and don’t be afraid to consult a guide if need be), Perfect Tides is a small game with a big heart that is going to satisfy a small number of people with great aplomb. It could be a cult classic.
And, I suppose, if anything sticks out in my mind during my few hours, and is as good a sign-off as any, it’s Lily’s line to Mara as they travelled together through the pitch-black woods: “You don’t have to see, you just have to be sure.”
Amen, Lily. I wouldn’t have understood that when I was a teenager. But I suppose that I do now.
Perfect Tides is available via Steam.
Watch the trailer for Perfect Tides below: