I recently got through playing Children of Silentown, and had an unfortunate reminder of why I don’t play many point-and-click games. I didn’t even make it an hour into the game before I started having to comb the entire screen looking for objects to interact with. This was followed by a healthy dose of smashing random items together until a solution presented itself, or worse – realizing I’d missed something when none of the items in my possession could solve my problem.

Naturally, this sent me to a walkthrough, only to be told where I needed to go to retrieve the item I’d missed. As this continued to happen, it got me thinking: is there really not a better way to do this? Almost every time I was stumped came about because I lacked a key item to make sense of the solution. What’s more, as I read reviews for the game, both professional and casual, I noticed that very few people seemed to be having the same challenges I was. Maybe I was the problem.

After reflecting on my time with the game, however, I’ve ultimately concluded that Children of Silentown was more at fault. There are a number of times where it fails to use its visual language to direct the player, or outright misleads them. I have to assume these are things that those familiar with the genre aren’t bothered by, but, as an outsider, I had a particularly rocky experience.

An often overlooked aspect of video game visuals is how they can be used to speak to the player. There’s a lot a game can say through its visuals alone. I think that’s why I found it so frustrating how Children of Silentown doesn’t do anything to differentiate its key items from its window dressing. Nothing that the player that pick up, or interact with is denoted visually, which causes everything to sink into the background. When you can’t immediately parse what you’re looking at, you’re forced to scan every area for the objects that you actually can interface with. This is about as exciting as watching paint dry, and just as tedious.

Example of Lucy's slingshot as it is in-game.

For a concrete example of what I’m talking about, we can look to Lucy’s broken slingshot. The first time I was in Lucy’s bedroom, I didn’t even realize this item could be interacted with, nor am I certain I even saw it. The muted colour palette of everything caused the slingshot to fade into the dresser. What’s worse, is that the dresser is also an interactive object. I erroneously assumed that I couldn’t interact with anything on top of it because I was able to interact with the dresser directly. Evidently that wasn’t the case, which I found out some 20 minutes later when I relented, and checked a walkthrough.

Now, I know what some point-and-click veterans are already thinking: obviously you need to scan the entire screen to discover the items you can interact with. My question is why? The only genre I can think of where interactable objects are intentionally obfuscated are hidden object games, where the whole point of the experience is to find said hidden objects. I don’t think that’s what Children of Silentown was going for because the slingshot is just sort of sitting there. What makes it difficult to spot is the complete lack of contrast it has from anything else in the scene.

To that end, I’d have liked to see Silentown do more to distinguish its key items. Brighter colours. Deeper shadows. A coloured outline. Something, please! There’s so many different options to help make your key interactable objects stand out visually to the player, and it will immediately tell them, at a glance, what objects in a given scene are important. This eliminates the need for tedious pixel hunting, which I think is a net win.

Example of Lucy's slingshot with additional visual contrast.
Edited for more contrast!

Heck, if this sort of pixel hunting is something that core point-and-click vets love so much, it could even be made optional. Late last year I played The Case of the Golden Idol, and it had an option to add a visual flair to every item that could be interacted with. This was enabled by default, but the game asked if you wished to disable it before starting. This proved to be quite accommodating for players like myself, without alienating the folks who like combing every inch of the screen.

I also think it’s important for games to not send mixed signals about what can, and can’t be interacted with. There’s a really good example of this in chapter 3. Lucy needs a boost to pick some cherries. The item in question for this is a crate that players see earlier in the chapter, but there’s a catch: when you first see it, the crate is being used as a stool by an elderly woman. I don’t know about you, but when I see an NPC sitting on something my first thought isn’t to ask them to move so I can use their makeshift stool to solve my current conundrum.

In most games, NPCs are window dressing for the background. It’s very rare for them to be truly interactive pieces of the world. This will cause most players to implicitly assume that they, and anything associated with them is part of the background, instead of something that they can directly interact with. Like really, when is the last time you thought about stealing something that an NPC was using as a stool? Never. Don’t you lie to me.

The final area where I think Children of Silentown could have used stronger visual communication comes from the invisible objects that reside in its final acts. Being hidden in plain sight is one thing, but deliberately hiding invisible objects all over your game world without any visual tells is just…so evil.

Before we continue – I need to elaborate because I know I’ll have lost some of you. One of the mechanics in Children of Silentown is that Lucy can sing songs to solve certain puzzles. The third of these songs causes hidden objects to become visible. When you open the song menu, you can scan the screen for things to use your songs on, and that will reveal hidden objects with a shimmering visual cue. The problem here is that you have to open an entirely separate menu to see your visual hint meaning it’s even more tedious than methodically scouring the game for key items.

Obviously I think this system is bad, and I’m not sure anyone would argue with me on that assessment. As an alternative, I think it’d have been neat if there was a sound cue that played as you approached these hidden objects. That or you could have the controller rumble. Maybe both? In either case, this would give the player a way to know they needed to use the song that revealed hidden objects. As it stands, the current implementation only offers opportunities for the player to brute force their way through everything.

Look – I know I’ve been kind of down on Children of Silentown, so before I close things out I wanted to highlight some of the things the game does well. The game looks stunning, and has a great sense of atmosphere. It really has a way of digging into that part of your brain that mistakes every noise your cat makes while slinking around in the shadows as some kind of other worldly goblin that’s come to nibble your toes. If games were judged entirely based on their ability to evoke a specific feeling then Children of Silentown would be a 10/10 experience.

Unfortunately, a lot more goes into a game then the quality of its visuals, and ability to accurately convey its intended vibe. I don’t expect the suggestions I’ve made here to be retroactively applied to the game, but I’m fairly confident that I’d have had a better time playing it had they been. As it stands, Children of Silentown feels like a game from over 20 years ago – a game from the time when adventure games declined into extinction for a lot of the same design decisions that it commits to.