Unmemory — Bookend of Great Potential
“A game you can read. A book you can play.” In a market already bursting with visual novels, Unmemory (developed by Patrones y Escondites) strives to make a new type of experience amidst the literature-based games on the market. Objectively, it does exactly that. Unmemory starts powerfully but doesn’t hold its grip on the reader by the end of its full experience, neither through story nor gameplay.
Unmemory’s strong point is in its introduction and opening acts, wherein it tells you, point blank, to take notes. The introduction and subsequent chapters are fast and intriguing without being overwhelming. The first chapter takes the cake, introduceing the player to the setting, story, and mechanics in rapid punches meant to feel narratively sharp, but mechanically accessible.
Though the amnesia trope may be overdone in many stories, Unmemory uses it with relative aplomb, helping to immerse new players into a new story and new way of experiencing games. This helps our initially-nameless character stumble through the mystery of the murder in their home, the Killer Kittens, and the angry gangster who has it out for them.
The true gameplay element in Unmemory lies in its puzzles, requiring careful notetaking in each chapter, along with the manipulation and interaction of various items as you read. For example, a phone that you saw illustrated earlier in the text may start to ring, requiring you to scroll up in order to answer it. Or maybe you’re referencing information from a computer to punch into a label maker to get a code for a safe to reveal…mystery.
The chapters are sizable enough to warrant a good read, but function moreso as text-based escape rooms: you read, decipher clues, solve puzzles to tackle the main puzzle, and then move on to the next chapter/“room.” I was genuinely relieved to find out that I could largely forget about my old notes when I moved on to a new chapter, as opposed to other puzzle games that have me referencing solutions and hints from throughout the adventure.
Additionally, Unmemory provides players/readers with a hint system, but for those who don’t know where to look, it can be easy to miss (it’s in the Chapters screen, if you’re interested) until you’ve grown frustrated with puzzles and start relying on online walkthroughs to guide your hand.
In time, Unmemory lost me. The first several chapters were so strong, challenging yet fair, but around Chapter 6, I was starting to check out. Clues within certain puzzles were becoming a bit too vexing to comprehend, I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the text, and the hint system (now that I knew where it was) wasn’t doing me any good. This could, of course, just be a mark against my own abilities regarding puzzles, but I’m cutting myself some slack.
Chapter 7 did me in for good. I’d grown used to reading and interacting with the text over so many chapters. Unmemory changed that expectation so jarringly and outside the established norm that I phoned in the final acts, just to see the story to its conclusion.
It’s a shame. The characters of Unmemory are quirky and intriguing. I wanted to care about their journey all the way to the end…this all after I wracked my brain to successfully figure out their identities in one of the puzzles. The plot’s sense of intrigue and mystique fades away before its final twists and turns. Where I should have felt blasted by the story’s direction, I instead felt a breeze as I careened ahead towards the tale’s end.
Stylistically, however, Unmemory is beautiful. The creators were intentional with the aesthetic and look of every item, landscape, and doodad that crosses the player’s screen. From the Polaroid pictures to the technology of the 90s, every bit of Unmemory’s aesthetic helps to immerse its audience into the world and its story that much more. Its sound design compliments the experience sublimely, and is genuinely best played with headphones. Hearing an item go off elsewhere in the story, be it a knock on the door, a jab on a jukebox, or a parrot, is gripping, and the race to address it even more so.
All of this is to say that, despite its slow finish, Unmemory is a phenomenal jumping-off point. The adventure genre in games is due for a good shakeup, and Unmemory has the makings of greatness in it. The same way there are games held in high regard for their impact in the past, Unmemory should not be overlooked. Not because it’s perfect, but because it has the potential to help innovate, if not create, an entire genre of games.