As a kid, I loved books like The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia, where a secret and magical world is hidden in plain sight, and my biggest wish was to find such a place for myself. Beyond the Wall reminded me of this adolescent fantasy, and I always get excited when video games are able to evoke memories from my childhood. Czech developer Rocking Toy has managed to create such a magical glimpse into a child’s dream of sneaking out at night and discovering strange and mysterious secrets in a forbidden garden. It’s a very short adventure, but while it lasts it is full of fun puzzles and quirky characters in a style that lovingly tips its hat to the classic Amanita games.
Beyond the Wall starts off with a short cinematic consisting of a couple of children’s drawings, where a little girl with pigtails rings a doorbell on a wall, and then she and a boy are seen playing together. After the cutscene, the childlike illustrated style morphs into a much more detailed and sophisticated look, though still hand-drawn. The little girl from the drawings, who will remain unnamed through the game, rings the doorbell on the wall, as she has apparently done so many times before, but this time no one answers. In the far distance, beyond the wall, we see a flickering light in the window of the house where the boy lives. Since he isn’t answering the door, our little brave protagonist takes it upon herself to find out what’s wrong and begins her perilous journey towards his house.
To get to her goal, the girl – let’s call her Pigtails – must navigate a hedgerow maze, enter and exit a fox den, and find her way through some eerie and shadowy woods. Cigarette-smoking frogs, a mean worm and a giant eyeball on a vine are only a few of the inhabitants of this peculiar place. Each setting consists of just a single area, except for the fox den, which stretches over two cozy little rooms, and sometimes the space opens up a bit more as you wander from side to side.
In each locale, Pigtails needs to get past some kind of hurdle, be it an angry garden gnome or a ravenous caterpillar. When you enter a scene you can’t leave the way you came, so there is no need for backtracking to search for any items you have missed, and you can focus on the present challenge knowing that the solution to it must be in your immediate surroundings. Anything you’ll require for the task at hand can be found in that area, and sometimes you carry these items with you in your inventory for the next scenario.
As for gameplay, it’s all very traditional. You enter a scene, see a challenge you need to overcome, pick up a few items, and use them accordingly so that you can move on to the next location. Using the familiar point-and-click formula, you both steer Pigtails and pick up items, sometimes combining them in your inventory when needed. For instance, to get past a fox, you need to make a sleeping brew, since he’s naturally drinking some tea while reading a book. Another place you need to neutralise a threatening garden gnome who is standing in your way.
Each scene has a help function as well; if you click the question mark in the top right corner, you will see a children’s drawing depicting not the direct solution to your challenge, but a suggestion of how to solve it. Even though the puzzles are fairly easy, there are no hotspot indications even when you hover the cursor over one. This is likely the result of the game starting life as a mobile exclusive, but it sometimes makes it a bit difficult to know where to put things or what to pick up. In some scenes you need to be really observant, and you might need to resort to a lot of desperate clicking to find out what to do.
Another thing Beyond the Wall is devoid of is dialogue. Pigtails makes her way through the garden all alone, and there are no spoken words or thoughts even with the creatures she meets; hence no voice acting. She does make a couple of noises now and then, such as “uh-uh,” “hoo-hoo” and “hupp,” but there is no actual dialogue or even communication for that matter. What is present though, is some truly stunning music, and each location has its own unique and beautiful tune. Most of the melodies are dreamy and lullaby-like, performed with instruments like the banjo, marimba and acoustic guitar, creating an absolutely magical atmosphere.
As is often the case with these types of games, the story premise is quite thin. Our little heroine is compelled to figure out why her friend isn’t coming to the door when she rings the doorbell, and she needs to make her way from point A to B. Besides the fact that she isn’t even given a name, when it comes to character development and depth, there is none. None of those are really needed in a lone child’s single-night’s venture through a magical world, but if deep stories and well-written, fleshed-out characters are elements that are important to you, I wouldn’t think this game would do much for you.
Another thing that should be mentioned is the length of the game. I finished my first playthrough in just over one hour, which is indeed very short. Although brevity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Beyond the Wall left me fiercely wanting more. I played the game on both PC and iPad to see if there were any significant difference between platforms, but the game played the same both places. My second playthrough was over after around thirty minutes, as there really isn’t anything new to see or do a second time around.
It’s a shame that Beyond the Wall is so woefully short, because I truly enjoyed the brief and delightful time I spent following its pigtailed protagonist on her journey through the magical garden. With its cute hand-drawn art style, easy puzzles and intuitive gameplay, it is an adventure that would suit almost any player, regardless of age or gaming experience. Although the overall feel might be more on the childish side, there are elements here that are surprisingly creepy. I really liked the adorable and innocent spirit of it overall, with our fearless and kind of naïve heroine, but also the sinister and dark touches to remind us that there is always evil lurking in the shadows. If you’re craving a quick, fun and charming adventure that has just the right amount of cute and creepy, have a look at what is hidden Beyond the Wall.
Its length – or rather its extreme lack of it – is difficult to overlook, but Beyond the Wall is a cute and charming little adventure in the same style as many of the classic Amanita games.
- Beautiful hand-drawn locations with lots of fun details and quirky characters
- Easy but entertaining puzzles
- Magnificent soundtrack creates an enchanting atmosphere
- Not much story to talk about
- No hotspot indication
- VERY short, with barely an hour of gameplay
Aurora played Beyond the Wall on both PC and iPad using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.