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Grotto Review

Grotto Review

If you could talk with the stars, would you take great care in relaying their messages to a downtrodden tribe? Or would you act haphazardly and decide for yourself what is best for the primitive village? [pofile] is a narrative-focused title where choices made by the player affect the outcome of the game, and developer Brainwash Gang has certainly intrigued me with this one. But is the story engaging enough to keep going? Do the choices really matter in the long run? Join me, then, fellow soothsayers, as I attempt to interpret the stars’ eternal wisdom and give you my (their) thoughts and feelings on Grotto!

Taking on the role of an unnamed fortune-teller, we — as already mentioned — are able to talk to the stars and interpret destiny. Members of a local tribe visit you, seeking out the wisdom of the heavens and asking for guidance. Although these visits seem unconnected at first, it quickly becomes clear that not all is well in this nearby village, and through your soothsaying abilities, you may lead them to salvation or bring about their ruin.

Despite its rather short run time of around four hours, the story of Grotto is certainly the main draw. It’s not quite as simple as choosing a constellation for the correct answer, though, and many of the creatures that wander into your cave seeking guidance may well interpret things differently from how our mute protagonist presents them. Or just outright ignore you altogether! There are a few tough choices you can be presented with, and one in particular (which I seemingly picked the wrong constellation for) was a rather bitter pill to swallow after seeing the consequences of my actions. If this tribe needs advice on whether or not to allow the selling of children, then are they even worth saving? One of the many questions I found myself asking during my playthrough!

With such a distinctive art style, it’s a shame that there aren’t more environments to explore outside of the titular grotto. However, this magical cave is beautifully designed and certainly evokes a feeling of wonder during your time spent within its confines. Lit only by the fortune-teller's fire and a shaft of light showing the stars above, it’s a well-defined 3D environment that may not be large, but it certainly has a ton of character.

Speaking of characters, the village's denizens will grace you with their presence each day, and despite their outwardly grotesque appearances, they are wonderfully stylised! In contrast to the 3D grotto, all the characters are two-dimensional and have a great deal of detail, with each one looking and feeling unique. These anthropomorphic creatures are unlike anything I’ve seen before, and though not all of them are too keen on the idea of having to visit you, they are packed with personality in both aesthetics and writing.

In conjunction with the mystical, magic atmosphere of Grotto is the sound design. The use of music is flawless; from satisfying chimes when figuring out a new constellation to the subtle chants heard on occasion, it just fits perfectly. I was disappointed that the visitors to your grotto aren’t voiced (making this a very text-heavy game), but the sound design was still immersive regardless.

With Grotto taking place solely within its namesake and lots of dialogue to read, it should come as no surprise that the game is rather basic. The main flow of gameplay is that you’ll wake up each day, listen to whatever troubles are ailing the villager that has come into your sanctuary, then look up at the stars to select one of around two dozen constellations to give them their answer. Each of these constellations offers up a different meaning, although whilst one villager may look at the Scorpion as an omen of death, another may see it as a blessing.

At first, it feels like there are almost unlimited possibilities when it comes to how Grotto’s story plays out; unfortunately, the more I played, the more it felt like I had very little control over it. Sure, I could pick and choose which cluster of stars would be my answer to their questions, but it wasn’t always obvious just what exactly that answer was. Since our interaction is little more than presenting a symbol to each character, it feels like you have little control over how the story unfolds, particularly as not everyone views each constellation as having the same meaning. It was difficult to decide if I liked this mechanic or not, as on the one hand, it feels like control was taken away from me when a decision I wanted to make actually turned out to be the opposite, whereas there’s something uniquely humanising about giving out advice that’s taken completely in the wrong way.

Grotto is more than just four hours of selecting patterns in the stars and presenting them to residents of the nearby village, though, and throughout the journey, more mechanics are added to keep things fresh. Placing bones in the fire allows you to talk to deceased villagers, while later on, you’re able to go into a trance-like state and seek help from a rather menacing spirit. I appreciated these new mechanics to keep the game from growing stale, and the run time felt just right for a narrative-heavy title.

Although there is replay value in uncovering new outcomes for each problem thrown your way by the villagers, I’m torn on whether or not I’d want to do a second or even third playthrough. With limited gameplay and decision-making that almost feels out of your control, Grotto is certainly worth a look if you enjoy narrative adventures, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get the outcome you were hoping for.

7.00/10 7

Grotto (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

A unique narrative adventure, Grotto is visually striking and full of magical charm, but a lack of definitive choices may put some players off this intriguing tale.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Mike Crewe

Mike Crewe

Staff Writer

Bought a PS5 and won't stop talking about it

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