PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
UN JE NE SAIS QUOI, Umanimation
June 13, 2023
Despite the protests of her father, a determined Mimi travels to the scenic French countryside of Dordogne to find a missing piece of herself. Awaiting her is the quaint home belonging to her recently departed grandmother, soon to be sold, as well as a summer’s worth of precious childhood memories Mimi inexplicably has no recollection of. How could she forget something so valuable, as well as the circumstances behind the rocky relationship between her father and grandparents? These are the hooks that propelled me through this pleasant and beautifully animated adventure game. While not mechanically dense or anywhere close to challenging, I enjoyed this relaxing French getaway.
As Mimi inspects her grandmother Nora’s home and the surrounding grounds for clues, I engage in quirky interactions that add a flair of playfulness to otherwise mundane actions. Instead of pointing and clicking objects, I insert and rotate keys to open doors, tilt a box to pour cereal into a bowl (and all over the kitchen table), and hover my marionette-like hands over silverware to collect them from a riverbed. One of the most creative sequences involved slingshotting word bubble greetings over a cliff to convey shouting at a distant friend. I like that Dordogne regularly finds small but fresh spins on how you engage with its world. Using the small mouse-style cursor to perform these actions naturally feels more awkward with a controller, and it gets easily lost among the colorful, busy backdrops, but it gets the job done.
Nearly all of these unique interactions are performed by a 12-year-old Mimi, who players control during numerous flashback sequences weaving the story of her summer vacation with Nora. She documents her stay by taking photos, capturing sound effects using a tape recorder, and collecting stickers, cassette tapes, and giant dreamlike words scattered across levels. The endgame for performing these tasks is filling pages of a scrapbook by forming simple poems from collected words and arranging photos and stickers. Outside of satisfying an innate desire to clean chapters of their allotted collectibles (and, unfortunately, you can’t replay chapters to find any missed ones), making these scrap pages offers no tangible reward other than the small pleasure of expressing myself in a limited way.
Playing Dordogne is nice, but looking at it is even better. Thanks to a beautiful watercolor art direction, every scene feels like an interactive tour of an artist’s gallery; you can actually see the brush strokes. The framing of certain scenes makes them look great as static images, but odd angles occasionally make it tricky to discern walkable paths; expect to bump up against some bushes and staircases until you find the way forward. Character models sport a similar visual appeal, and combined with the lovely soundtrack, Dordogne is like a charming French indie art film come to life.
As a coming-of-age story primarily set in the early ‘80s (the adult Mimi sequences occur in 2002), Dordogne hits the right notes of being whimsical enough for kids but having enough dark overtones and mature discussions to give it some teeth for grown-ups. I felt warm and fuzzy watching Mimi and Nora bond over simple pleasures such as repairing a broken kayak or having a riverside picnic. The edges of the darker backstory involving Mimi’s family add intrigue that feels decently paid off by the end. However, more clarification on vague topics, such as the cause of Mimi’s father’s lifelong resentment towards his parents, would have been nice. The story also relies a fair bit on players locating easy-to-miss collectible letters that provide crucial context and backstory to critical events.
As someone who derives real pleasure in admiring beautiful paintings, Dordogne ups the ante by letting me creatively interact with its gorgeous art. Even better, it layers a largely enjoyable tale on top of it. Like Mimi and Nora’s relationship, there are some bumps to overcome, but good times await those willing to work through them.