When I was younger, I tried to learn to play the piano, but my brain couldn’t handle giving my left hand different instructions than my right. Doesn’t mean I stopped appreciating piano music, though, which is why I jumped on Blue Wednesday, a casual little adventure containing a variety of mini-games. The most important of these plays out in a “Piano Hero” style, which turns out to be loads of fun; to be honest, I really wanted more of that as the others weren’t nearly as interesting. It’s all wrapped up in a bit of a clichéd narrative with lots of extra characters that don’t really seem to add anything except as a means to gather collectibles, but underneath is an interesting philosophy about following your dreams – or not.
Morris is a Willy Morgan lookalike who works in Evans City as a clerk in a grocery store. Stocking soda cans and scanning products at the cash register are the first two mini-games you’ll have to master. You might think this is a student job based on Morris’s youthful appearance, but no, he’s a fully grown adult having a hard time finding balance between his work, his free time, and his dreams of becoming a famous jazz pianist. He’s renting an apartment through his aunt, his piano music is upsetting his downstairs neighbor, he has trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and frankly, he’s not doing so well.
As a purely artistic choice, many of the other city folk look quite young as well. Sometimes that feels awkward: there’s one character that looks like a twelve-year-old little girl with a shiny red hair clip, and at one point she’s talking to her new boyfriend about her ex-husband! Then there’s Ben, the bakery owner, who looks more like the baker’s son; David, always standing on a street corner in a hooded coat like South Park’s Kenny; and Angela, the saxophonist, whom you’d expect to see performing in a high school glee club instead of in a jazz bar playing till well past midnight.
One day Morris notices an ad on a message board in the street: a jazz joint downtown is hiring a new pianist. Perfect timing, since he just got fired and can’t make the rent anymore (come on, auntie, cut us some slack!). However, it causes Morris to wrestle with his insecurities and fear of failure, because when he was younger he put out a jazz album that flopped. After that he gave up his dream of ever making a career of doing what he loves most. Could this new opportunity finally change that?
Blue Wednesday may look like a point-and-click game but only offers keyboard (or controller) support. You walk around with the usual WASD or directional keys. Items and exits get a hotspot icon when you’re close enough, and you can interact with them using the default action key. You also use these keys during the pretty mundane mini-games, like solving sliding puzzles to get an image of an album cover, making electric current run from point A to point B while fixing a radio, and finding the perfect hot/cold balance on your bath faucet.
Thankfully, playing the piano is the strong suit of Blue Wednesday, and indeed the most fun it has to offer. This rhythm mini-game is like a combination Guitar Hero and a typewriting course: the four notes you can hit with the D, F, J and K keys drop down the right side of the screen towards a simulated keyboard, and you have to play them at the exact moment they reach the bottom. Miss a note, and you’ll hear Morris appropriately fumble up as well, suddenly playing off-key. Miss too many in a row and Morris will prematurely end the playing session, mentioning what a disaster it was. You’ll need a certain percentage of correct notes to get a particular star rating, topping at four stars for playing a song as perfectly as possible. It took some getting used to, but I played loads of Guitar Hero back in the day, so it was fun engaging in this variety of gameplay. However, except for a couple of key scenes, you can totally skip playing the piano if you wish.
Everything went smoothly for me until I (intentionally) screwed up my audition at the jazz club. The band leader said, “Are you kidding?” and then the screen turned black. And stayed black. I had to Alt-Tab out of the game, close it that way and restart. This happened every time I (still purposely) blew the audition, so I’m wondering if it is actually a bug or perhaps some intentional cruel punishment for not playing well enough. After all, you have to play REALLY badly (just banging the keyboard haphazardly or not hitting any keys at all) if you really want to fail this part, and I doubt anyone who got this far without bypassing all the earlier practice will experience this.
Between tickling the ivories you’ll spend most of your time walking around the city talking to various NPCs. I noticed some minor graphical glitches as I explored, like when Morris appeared to be walking straight through the corner of his piano and bicycles on the street. But other than that the backgrounds are amazingly detailed with bright, stylized hand-drawn graphics, reminiscent of a more detailed and colorful version of the Rhapsody in Blue section in Disney’s Fantasia 2000. At key plot points, you get even more beautiful close-up artwork, such as characters playing their instruments.
Evans City is chock full of people and cars and animals, some of which you can even interact with. No two buildings look alike, and you get to see the city in daylight as well as at night, plus there are sunny days and rainy days. You’ll pass several shops you can enter, like a bakery, a music store, a clothing store, a coffee shop, and a repair shop, like a quintessential downtown city block. I certainly advise you to explore, and in all directions, because there’s an entire section, found through a back alley, which I missed at first by simply following the storyline. It was only my own curiosity, wanting to know what was over THERE that made me discover it and a couple more secondary characters.
You’ll engage in lots of rather meaningless conversations along the way, but once in a while, when you’ve talked to someone enough days in a row to have fully heard their own personal story, they will give you a vinyl record to add to your collection, which you can play in your apartment. But even while aiming for 100% achievement, I wasn’t able to collect all the albums myself, probably because you need to keep at it before any of these characters truly become interesting. Except for one old man, a writer jotting down what he sees in the streets, whom I found very intriguing from the start. Other collectibles are character bios and new sheet music for your piano. I say “collectibles” but they are added automatically through the course of the game without you really having to do anything special.
If you’re not feeling social, it is possible to miss (or consciously avoid meeting) these fellow city-dwelling NPCs by taking the bus instead of walking to work. There’s only an autosave function, though, and it’s a fickle one since I couldn’t really detect the checkpoints where my progress was recorded, and exiting at an inopportune time once forced me to redo an entire section of the previous in-game day when I returned. Not that this should be much of an issue: hunting down all the collectibles may take about four hours, but simply following the main story can be done in two, so you may well be able to finish Blue Wednesday in one sitting.
There’s no spoken dialogue, and you have to click away the text balloons, which still show the occasional typo. These balloons also come with a weird popping sound signaling their appearance, which is distracting to the point of annoyance. The other sound effects are great, though. If the artwork didn’t already give the sense of a living, breathing city, the ambient audio like passing traffic and cooing pigeons really liven up the place. And of course throughout the game you’ll hear original piano pieces accompanying your travels, with other instruments joining in on occasion. Jazz is this game’s main selling point, and it’s hard to sit still at your computer when the streets of Evans City – and Morris’s head – are filled with music.
The story of Blue Wednesday is basically the standard one of a struggling artist finally getting the opportunity to live his dream, only to see it all shatter in front of his eyes through his own mistakes. Mistakes you have no say in, I’m sorry to say, and I often wanted to smack Morris on the head – especially during his interactions with Angela, who clearly digs his style, if you know what I mean – and force him to go back and confront the fears he’s running away from.
What isn’t nearly so common is where Morris and Angela end up due to the lack of influence you have on their story. They’re pursuing their artistic dreams and their love for both music and each other, yet their internal struggles continually get in the way. The game paints a pretty realistic picture, and isn’t afraid to show the good with the bad, especially when it comes to the main character’s mental health. It’s a fight many people have to face daily: Will you ever be good enough, or will you always be disappointed? Do you follow your passions, or are you satisfied with an uncomplicated job where you can easily stack up the achievements and get a decent paycheque? Perhaps Blue Wednesday’s ending will make you take a look at your own life in this regard.
Far from being a feel-good story, Blue Wednesday didn’t make me feel good very often personally, but that seems to have been very much intentional. It showcases the hard struggles of life perfectly, and demonstrates how doubt, fear, and downright anxiety can take control of your decisions and screw everything up. I felt let down by the message conveyed and the main character not making the choices I would, were I in his shoes, but others might actually recognize themselves in Morris and find in him a kindred spirit.
If you’re looking for a challenge, Blue Wednesday certainly isn’t it. Without any interesting puzzles, perhaps the story would have worked better as an animated movie than an adventure game. It’s fun playing the piano, but the other mini-games, while nice enough time-wasters, don’t really add much else, and there are still some rough edges. And though I enjoyed trying to fill out my vinyl collection, it involved a lot of random dialogue to achieve it. That said, it looks and sounds beautiful, and the game has a thought-provoking premise about the choices we face in life. So if you love music – and jazz in particular – and you’re curious enough to spend time getting to know the city residents, there is definitely some enjoyment to be found in unlocking those awesome musical highlights.
In celebrating a love of music, Blue Wednesday is less a full-fledged adventure than a casual version of “Piano Hero” with some dialogue, exploration and other mini-games mixed in, all wrapped in a cutesy-looking but uncomfortable story about whether it’s worthwhile chasing your dreams.
- All that jazz!
- Fun playing the piano Guitar Hero style
- Gorgeous backgrounds and sound effects bring the city to life
- Rather silly and mundane secondary mini-games
- No chance to influence the story in a more personal direction
- Character designs make them appear awkwardly younger than they are
Johnny played Blue Wednesday on PC using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.