Imagine you’re a university student finishing up your degree on magical plants. Not that much of a stretch, right? As part of your final thesis, possibly your dissertation, you travel to the far-off island of Geos and discover it to be inhabited by a society of animated, wooden constructs and the spirits who created and oppress them. (Plus one Information Fish who provides occasional exposition when not insulting you.)
The game looks and feels like a Gamecube-era adventure game, like something out of the Zelda franchise. It has that feel as you run around the colorful town, talking to people with their bubbles of repeating text, and bursting into people’s homes and opening their treasure right in front of them.
I hesitated to do that last one. Lots of the game’s many treasure chests are in out-of-the-way places, tucked into homes closed off by order of the mayor, but one early chest is in the home of one of the constructs. And he’s home, watching you. After a half-hour’s play determined that the game expects you to open every chest, I went back and stole all his goods before his eyes, to no consequence other than becoming marginally richer.
Besides currency, each chest contains unique items, each an homage to some other video game. The collection features a “plumber’s hat,” a “hero’s shield,” and a ninja sword suspiciously stained with fruit juice. Nearly all of them are extraneous, but the game surprised me when two wound up having a use in the game’s explore-until-you-find-a-solution puzzles.
As you play, you learn that besides being oppressive, the spirits are plain jerks. They steal the flowers that you pick for your thesis, and thus begins your quest to acquire magical flowers by stealing them from where they grow on spirits’ heads. This is the main gameplay skill to learn: you ride the spirit like a rodeo bull, yanking flowers off its head while avoiding thorns that make it harder to hold on. Get enough before the spirit throws you and you can pick its red spirit flower, defeating that spirit. The construct resistance requires that you return with yea-many red flowers before they’ll help you to the next stage of the game.
The minigame feels like it was designed for a touchscreen, and a bit of research reveals that Child of Geos was first published for the iPad. And while I call it a minigame, it’s really the main part of the game. There’s no other skill curve to ascend; the rest of the game is exploration and talking to enough people in the right order that you unlock the next batch of spirits to wrangle.
Standing on a bipod of exploration and full-contact flower-picking, both legs need to stand strong. The spirit rodeo was not engaging, and the exploration… varies. The writing is irregular and seems almost divided at times. Much of the text, such as the spirit profiles you see after defeating them, relies on tired, stereotypical jokes: this one is female and doesn’t want to give its weight, or another lists her age as 16 on some days and 21 on others. This one is male and likes to watch.
In contrast, some of the dialogue is clever, self-aware, and mature (as opposed to juvenile). When you rescue a construct from a building you unlocked ages ago, you point out that she could have left any time. Her reply? It feels so good to be the hero, and she didn’t want to take that from you. The flying mailbox-slash-mailman visits at first to bring letters, but then because it’s worrying about Lili, and it helps Lili figure out what she really wants.
In the end, the core gameplay is unexciting, and the inventive, interesting dialogue is at least matched by the derivative or outright insulting bits.
Lili: Child of Geos is available on Steam for $3.99, or apparently on the iPad.