In 2009 I played Prototype. It’s a sandbox game starring a knockoff Venom, going on killing sprees and eating people. It was lots of fun, in a way that made me wonder if I was a bad person for enjoying it.
Untitled Goose Game is kind of like that. Only instead of a bloodthirsty cannibalistic shape-shifting monster, you’re a goose.
The game sticks you in the webbed feet of the un-titular Goose, drops you in a sleepy British village, and invites you to embrace your inner asshole. The controls and layout are simple: Pretty much all you can do is grab stuff, run around, and honk. The challenge comes in using those meager tools to cause as much misery among the village’s population as possible.
There’s a charm to all of it, in a very Dennis the Menace sort of way. The simple cel-shaded graphics in muted colors, the basic sound effects, and the soundtrack made up solely of plunky piano music that’s intensely reactionary to your naughty actions. Though it’s not entirely without challenge, Untitled Goose Game is very much a “chill” experience. It’s more about planning and timing, with almost no call on twitch reflexes.
You’re loosed upon the village to spread your fowl malice. The game guides you with a gentle hand, suggesting some naughtiness you can enact in checklist form, but otherwise giving you zero direction. In the first area, it’s suggested you steal the gardener’s keys and collect a few items for a “picnic” on the lawn. Most of these are fairly obvious: You’ll need to sneak around the garden and steal stuff to bring it to the picnic area, giving the game a mild Metal Gear Solid feel as you hide things and keep the various humans from messing up your plans. (Later in the game you’ll hide in a cardboard box, because of course you will.)
There’s a thrill in causing befuddlement among the supernaturally patient humans of the village. They’ll chase you to retrieve their stuff, but never get so frustrated as to give you a much-deserved kick in the gizzard. Knowing that these humans are there just for you to pour out goosey wrath upon gives you an excuse to be the complete jerk that you (probably) aren’t in real life. You’d never be so juvenile as to tie a kid’s shoelaces together, trip him into a puddle, steal his glasses, and then replace them with silly sunglasses. Would you? The Goose would.
While most of the goals are fairly straightforward, a few hidden objectives create some delightful mayhem. My personal favorite was the sequence of events ending in this screenshot (and the answer to this puzzle qualifies as a mild spoiler, so heads up):
In order to accomplish the charming state above, I had to 1) steal the bow off of a woman’s plaster goose, 2) place it in the backyard of her neighbor so he’d throw it back over the fence, 3) steal and hide the plaster goose, 4) stand perfectly still in the plaster goose’s place, and 5) wait for the woman to tie the bow on me, optionally 6) honking and scaring the hell out of her when she was finished. Then I 7) moved the man’s prize rose in its planter, so it was behind the woman’s topiary sculpture, 8) messed up the sculpture so she’d have to trim it with her hedge clippers, and 9) waited for her to accidentally snip her neighbor’s rose. I then 10) picked up the murdered rose to match my dapper bow and rejoiced in the man’s sorrow.
Planning and executing that kind of mischief was intensely satisfying to the cackling supervillain center of my brain. But a few little things keep the experience from being perfect. Getting around to the various zones of the village is less than straightforward. There’s an organic nature to the haphazard layout, very authentic to a village that’s been on the same spot for millennia, but is it too much to ask for a map?
A few of the sequences are frustrating, too. One fairly straightforward goal is to pull out a stool as an old man is sitting down, making him fall in a bit of classic lunchroom slapstick. But every time I pulled on the stool, he would spot it and set it back up. After growing frustrated and resorting to Google, I found that the solution was to pull the stool away slightly faster, instead of trying to time it right. Other small bits of frustration are present, very much like when a point-and-click adventure game doesn’t seem to be following any sort of straightforward logic.
Even so, exploring the small village and finding new and interesting ways to annoy people is undeniably fun. The subtle soundtrack, executed in a sort of procedurally-generated cartoon way (think Tom and Jerry tip-toeing to the sound of a xylophone), is a perfect accompaniment. The game is short, but its finale is surprisingly engaging, a test of everything you’ve learned to do as you run through a gauntlet of every area. When completed, new hidden goals and time-based challenges are unlocked, extending the three or four hours of playtime for another two or so.
Untitled Goose Game is available on the Epic Games Store on PC and Nintendo’s eShop on the Switch, at $20 each. With its low visual fidelity and simple portable-friendly gameplay, I naturally went for the Switch version. It’ll come to the PS4 and Xbox One, as well as less contentious PC platforms, eventually.
If you think twenty bucks is a bit pricey for this kind of casual game, well, you’re not wrong. If the trailers and screenshots have charmed you, I don’t think you’ll be too upset at the cost of entry. But if you’re on the fence, it wouldn’t hurt to wait for a sale, likely to come when the game expands to more platforms.