The point-and-click RPG is a dying art, a relic of a bygone era before the intense stimulation of first-person shooters and massive online games. They were the purest form of gaming agency: forcing the players to figure out objectives and solutions for themselves, without the help of minimaps or partners to guide them. It’s a concept that has sadly waned in the decades since the console gaming boom – but The Sundew, developed by the one-woman team of Agnès Vuillaume, is a much-welcomed return to form for the subgenre. It’s charming, challenging, and a real jolt of nostalgia and enjoyment.
In The Sundew, you control Anna, a half-human-half-cyborg cop working in a cyberpunk version of Japan. It starts off with you undertaking the more rudimentary parts of Anna’s day — calling a cab, signing in at work, and so on. That’s before a routine day in the life turns into a life-altering incident, with Anna marked as a fugitive in a world where her mysterious employers may be more sinister than they seem.
If that sounds like a riff on classic sci-fi entries like Paul W.S. Anderson’s Soldier, or even akin to Dune, then that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Sundew is a love letter to sci-fi and fantasy across various media – least of all a visual and gameplay tribute to early LucasArts titles like Monkey Island. To control Anna, you scroll or tap the screen to pick up clues, test out item crafting combinations, and worm your way out of some fiendish puzzles. Despite being a PC title at its core, The Sundew is wonderfully optimised for Nintendo Switch, with across-the-board touchscreen compatibility, and intuitive use of the bumpers and triggers to highlight quest items and clues.
And when The Sundew wants you to sit and think about a tricky puzzle, it’ll absolutely do so. Some of the tasks here are incredibly difficult, and will require plenty of trial-and-error to figure out how to move. Luckily, it never veers into the territory of frustration, as Anna’s fourth-wall-breaking commentary ensures that any unwise item combo is greeted with a smile-inducing quip. Thinking of sticking a lit cigarette on a bunch of vines? The Sundew will make you think again.
Yet difficulty is rarely an issue, because playing through The Sundew‘s four-hour campaign feels so rewarding and enriching. The characters you meet along the way, from your lab colleague Jimmy to the ominous cyborg Nao, will give you enough hints to activate a lightbulb moment in your mind, and your in-game codex reminds you of objectives if you find yourself stuck. There are also a few delightful sub-quests to complete: namely, hunting down 36 Space Invaders aliens across the game, each with their own cheeky catchphrase to utter.
Once credits roll on The Sundew, the only thing you’ll be left wanting more of is story. The first two acts brilliantly set up a conspiracy around dangerous plant manufacturing, AI invasions, and governmental corruption – but the final act wraps things up a little too quickly. Of course, it’s hard to criticise when the story was developed entirely by one person, but when you see the game’s promise of more stories to come, you’ll be wishing that they’d arrive sooner.
That’s a minor gripe, though, in a game that lets you roll back the years in a gorgeously designed cyberpunk world. Every inch of the screen is dripping with detail and colour, and every puzzle is so challenging, yet so understandable to conquer, that you’ll kick yourself for not getting it. The Sundew is an unrivalled modernisation of the point-and-click genre, and is absolutely worth the four hours of your time. It’s stunning, engaging – and best of all, feels like it might just usher in a subgenre renaissance.
The Sundew releases on October 14 on Steam, itch.io, and Nintendo Switch.