A Highland Song

A Highland Song

you find its charm in the soundtrack, gorgeous visuals, or wonderful story.

you find its charm in the soundtrack, gorgeous visuals, or wonderful story.

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12/12/2023 toolmxh.com


Review game A Highland Song, you find its charm in the soundtrack, gorgeous visuals, or wonderful story.

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When it comes to how they handle stories, Inkle is without a doubt one of the most fascinating developers. Their most well-known book, 80 Days, is one of my personal favorites, but they also have a talent for inventively narrating amazing stories. So it should come as no surprise that I was ecstatic to obtain their most recent book. Though it deviates from Inkle’s usual genre and style, A Highland Song keeps up their stellar track record.

As opposed to spanning the world (or space), A Highland Song is a far more intimate and regional tale. Nonetheless, it has the same sense of personal development and escape that seems to be a hallmark of their work. “Moira McKinnon is running away” is how the studio described the game in its opening line, and that is precisely how the game opens as well. A young girl named Moira wishes to leave her family and go see her uncle in the Scottish Highlands. There’s no backstory, no trauma history, and no real purpose given, other than the curiosity of a young girl to explore. This puts you in Moira’s position right away, and you can’t help but smile at how much fun it is to travel through the Highlands and how desperate you feel when you get lost.

A Highland Song is a visual delight thanks to its lovely cartoony graphics and moody sound design. When routes are found, Moira can travel between the layers that make up the Scottish Highlands. This method creates a remarkable sense of depth and scale, which greatly adds to the excitement of exploration and discovery. Immersion weather effects, which can reduce visibility, increase climbing danger, and even harm your health, contribute to the atmosphere’s depth.

To further enhance this visual appeal, there are multiple happy chase scenes that function as rhythm action minigames set to the music of Scottish folk musicians TALISK and Fourth Moon. But these are portrayed as Moira pursuing deer for the pure joy of feeling the wind in her hair, not as her fleeing from some sort of threat. If you finish these, your endurance will increase, allowing you to climb higher and farther while also having fun. I eagerly anticipated every section of the folk tunes as I played through them on my Steam Deck while wearing headphones.

The mechanics of navigating the Highlands are fun, with a 2D platformer-style gameplay style that is reminiscent of Breath of the Wild climbing. You have to work around bigger obstacles at first because your stamina is limited until you increase it. But after finishing several chases, you can ascend imposing sections of the terrain that initially looked insurmountable. The main method to advance in this place is to climb mountains, since reaching their summits reveals routes to new locations. These routes are either unlocked through story progression or require you to locate documents in the variously placed shelters along the route. Every one of them has an approximate peak sketch that you have to compare to the peak you have climbed in order to identify the precise location. When you get this mechanic down pat, Moira’s infectious enthusiasm—brilliantly conveyed in Scottish idioms—makes it a highly rewarding exercise.

The true depth of Moira lies in its replayability, with 100 paths to find and numerous routes to take. Moira’s exploration and enthusiasm will keep you playing for the entire duration of the game, which is about three hours if all goes well. There’s a deadline of six days to get to Uncle Hamish before Beltane too, which I missed on my first playthrough. More exploration feels like going back to a favorite spot and discovering it anew, whether it’s through managing your endurance, figuring out the best route, or just seeing where wandering will take you.

An assortment of customary Scottish folktales and myths accompany your progress, adding the perfect finishing touch to this intimate and lovely account of one girl’s journey. The tales of the ghosts, selkies, and other enigmatic beings that inhabit the desolate peaks and abandoned cottages make for an amazing setting for the entire game.

In brief

Though visually very different from Inkle’s earlier work, A Highland Song is still very much in line with their narrative focus. This is a true treat, made even better by the charming folk music and the endearingly unique central performance. It also boasts lovely aesthetics and gratifying mechanics. Overall, this is the ideal game to enjoy with a glass of single malt or maybe an Irn Bru on a chilly winter’s night.


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