October 03, 2022

Article at Sidequest

View original

Review: The Land of Screens Isn’t So Subtle

Promo image for Land of Screens, Serenity Forge, Way Down Deep, 2022. An illustration of a young woman greeting a friend at a concert.

Holland is rattled by a recent breakup. She struggles to resist the urge to constantly check her phone to see the fallout of it. Thankfully, she finds herself preoccupied with plans to go to an important networking event for her writing job. Along the way, she catches up with old friends while also blocking in some additional time for her family reunion. But the thoughts of what people are thinking about her online still weigh heavy on her mind. As she hits the road, Holland tries to rekindle old connections and new ones—all without the use of social media.

Land of Screens

Serenity Forge
Way Down Deep
PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch
February 4, 2022

Land of Screens is a side-scrolling narrative adventure game in which you play Holland going along her travels. The game is divided into five major locations—which basically function as levels—where Holland must interact with various characters to progress the story.

Each level presents you with some sort of overarching conflict. As Holland, you quickly learn about a particular character’s dilemma, and you help them by interacting with other characters to yield some sort of item or cause an event trigger to help resolve the problem. Land of Screens bars the complexity that is present in other adventure games by not having elements like a thorough inventory system or branching dialogue paths.

A screenshot from Land of Screens (Serenity Forge, Way Down Deep, 2022). A woman with long, brunette hair holds a phone up to her ear in front of a closed garage. Another person with a swooped hairstyle and baggy clothing looks towards her with a smirk. A speech bubble hovering over the phone features the portrait of an older woman and a phone symbol, under the name, "Mom", reads, "Hi, honey. Just wanted to check in on you! See how you're doing."

Land of Screens has a very eye-catching art style that features flat, two-dimensional characters standing against just as flat and equally two-dimensional backdrops. You can have Holland move farther into the background and towards the foreground, creating an interesting parallax effect that adds depth to scenes. Its very bold, acidic color palette immerses you into its paper cutout-like world, yet it also ironically bears some resemblance to Corporate Memphis, an art style popularized for use in the corporate and tech-related world, which may be intentional. By its title alone, Land of Screens is a game commenting on the negative effects of excessive dependency on the use of social media and portable devices overall.

Holland’s ill feelings are caused by her constant need to feel validated by what she sees on social media. When she sets off on her travels, she immediately recognizes this issue, and when she attempts to engage in more human-to-human interactions, she too sees that many others are glued to their screens and cut off from actually facing the world.

A screenshot from Land of Screens (Serenity Forge, Way Down Deep, 2022). A young woman with long, brown hair looks down at her phone sitting on top of her bed. A speech bubble hovers over her head, under the name "Holland", reading, "I guess I should check Social Media."

Although Land of Screens teeters on the edge of saying something insightful, it also quickly lapses into writing that feels like the The Simpsons gag-turned-meme Old Man Yells at Cloud; some lines of dialogue feel like an artificial soapbox for the developers to talk about how phones are ruining too many lives from a very distant perspective.

While Holland feels like a very natural and refreshingly believable millennial undergoing a problem that resonates with many, some of the other members of the colorful cast you meet along the way feel like they were designed with forced, one-note personalities to simply stress a particular point.

Holland’s old, snobby acquaintance who is obsessed with writing clickbait works because she contrasts Holland’s own grounded personality when they both work in writing. Although this character remains unmoved, it coincides with the game’s theme of the pressure created by online communities to fulfill an audience. Meanwhile, the guy who is obsessed with taking selfies really only exists as a joke and does nothing else. It is just a stereotype and nothing more.

A screenshot from Land of Screens (Serenity Forge, Way Down Deep, 2022). A woman with long, brunette hair stands in the middle of a mostly empty cafe and a row of tables and chairs. She is facing an older woman with short, swooped hair, a lanyard, and a bemused expression. A speech bubble points to the older woman, under the name, "Joana", reading, "But phones made it harder to network in person. If someone is using their phone, I automatically feel like I'm interrupting them before I even approach."

The game also has this inconsistency when it comes to fully suspending you in its logic, with the majority of conflict resolution basically involving Holland gathering a bunch of complete strangers to work together. The game is trying to speak to Holland’s own insecurities about her social life, but it never really explicitly explains or fleshes this out beyond showing us that Holland simply has some sort of innate ability to bring people together. It is very clearly trying to say that people need to talk to each other more directly to solve the issues that have been plaguing them, but the game expresses it in a frank, literal way that makes it hard to take seriously.

Land of Screens is a pretty short game which can easily be completed in about two hours of playtime. However, Land of Screens is also a game that is not really saying anything new, and despite at times feeling very relatable and poignant, it’s also admittedly eye-rolling. It could have perhaps benefited from positing a wider array of perspectives in its writing. But overall, its themes exploring the negative effects of smartphone excess do generally resonate, and the game’s stylish presentation and simple gameplay is very drawing. Land of Screens is by no means perfect on the pedestal it wants to stand on, but its brevity is enough to give you the takeaway to once in a while take a look outside your own screen.

Related