Summertime Madness brings a theme that I’m sure many would experience in one way or another throughout our lives. The chance to escape, leaving behind the difficult, rough, and possibly dangerous surroundings definitely have a tempting sound to it. We all lived through 2020 and that dumpster fire. I couldn’t possibly be alone in wanting an end to that, right?
This is the premise of the newly released first-person puzzle game, Summertime Madness. You, a painter in a war-torn Prague, make a deal with a mysterious stranger. In this deal, you get to escape this hell and venture into your beautiful painting. However, the catch is you have till midnight or you’ll forever be trapped there. With slight hesitation and exhaustion brought on from the chaos, you accept.
This beautiful puzzle game has a lot going for it and presents it well. However, a couple of game design decisions made finishing the game a real trial in patience. This being a review of Summertime Madness, you can expect some major spoilers here.
Look for an updated section and score to this review below. I posted this and shortly after an update came and fixed my biggest complaint so I will update my review accordingly.
You start the game in a beautiful landscape surrounded by grass and trees waving in the wind. Water all around the land, a giant lighthouse, and a giant hand with an equally giant pocket watch. This area becomes very familiar to you as you play Summertime Madness. You will revisit this area as you progress through each painting and its puzzles.
The puzzles are relatively simple throughout the game. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity though. There is plenty of challenge here to keep the proverbial carrot just within reach and keep you moving forward. Most tend to be flipping a switch which then opens a door and closes another or spinning platforms to get secrets and a way out revealed. There are some MC Escher-like mazes with hidden switches needed to open the exit. Each puzzle has its own unique trick to it but sprinkles in some of the before mentioned methods. This gives confidence in understanding the mechanics without getting bored with its presentation.
I think my favorite puzzle was one called Neo Prague. You come to it at night and as you flip switches pathways appear and disappear, and gates open and close. When you switch from night into day, the whole world changes, paths are different but interact with the opposite world. You navigate through time to open two gates to leave on a rail car. It’s smart, interesting, and definitely a challenge. It’s the longest puzzle in the game and though it was frustrating, I never felt the need to give up.
Overall I don’t think the point with this game was to be The Witness levels of obtuse. There is a challenge but the story and the scenery is what is the main draw here.
Having been thrown into your paintings I can happily say the game’s art is amazing. From beautiful landscapes to surreal locations like a lighthouse that takes you to space. Your surroundings are stunning. I found myself wishing I had more time because often I would just stare
You truly get the feeling of being in a painting. Everything has that brushed kind of look to it and then when you’re in the more abstract places it just makes sense. There’s so much to look at. Walking a terrifying bridge in space while gusts of wind threaten to blow you off. It’s beautiful and terrifying. Don’t forget the giant steampunk space whale that shows up to confuse you more!
I found myself constantly in awe by what was presented to me. Boats that keep growing as you solve puzzles. Homes that are giant clockwork contraptions where the moving gears can be a hint to the puzzles to get in. The game is such a pleasure to look at and explore, thankfully they added a non-timed mode for those to explore and appreciate the art you are in.
The art direction in Summertime Madness is on point. The music fits each location and often has an ethereal quality to it that brought feelings of wonder and mystery to it. Perfect for a puzzle game. Opening a gate in a hallway would present a loud, echoing, clanking as the iron gate parts or closes.
The voice acting for the story in the beginning and ending cut scenes is great. While it’s only one voice, it’s done well and leveled out perfectly for the feel the dev is trying to convey.
The one part of their sound design I feel they missed out on was the chance create better immersion through footsteps. There are large swaths of the game where when you move it is silent except for the ambiance. There are footsteps when you walk over certain things. Like in Neo Prague, when you walk on the train tracks you can hear the steps on the wood there. Unfortunately there just isn’t much more for footsteps and while I feel the can often be too much, something there would have been appreciated.
The story is intriguing. While it is simple and a version of a story we’ve probably all heard before, I felt invested to finish the game with the timer on to save my soul. The two cutscenes have a good narrative to them and give you a decent finish to the game. However, I felt like there could have been more to it. Explanations about the paintings you were in, letters, or notebook entries explaining your thoughts. Something to flesh it out more.
I know there are secrets throughout. Collectables that while I tried to grab them I saw no real purpose to it. In Neo Prague, I had opened a store’s front door which inside gave me an old TV that showed me a show about a rat. It was interesting but seemed to have no tie-in to the main story. I am sure I missed other secrets that could have more to the main story but I will not know if this is the case.
The giant space whale shows up a few times and even after going through the whole game, all I have is questions. It NEVER touches on this machine/beast and it’s served as nothing but confusion to me. It clearly seems there’s more to it than I initially saw and maybe with more searching I could find out more. The story was enough to bring me in and finish the game but it did leave me wanting more info about the worlds I was exploring.
Now Summertime Madness isn’t a perfect game. None are. So with that said there are some issues I had with my playthrough. A few I’ve already touched on such as confusing story elements (collectibles, flying steampunk whale, etc.) and lacking sound. The last puzzle, Time parts 1 & 2, had two game design choices that utterly ruined this game for me.
Time Part 2
The first, and not the worst, shows up in part 2. In part two you are scaling these translucent stairs and walkways to find 3 stills of you painting one of the pieces of art you explored. This part has the least amount of challenge out of the game. It’s just walking a simple maze really. And that I am somewhat ok with. While a greater challenge would be nice, this is not what bugged me. You are unable to drop off the sides of these walkways thus requiring a lot of backtracking that even while running just takes so much of your time.
I understand why this is the way it is. The dev most likely didn’t want you jumping to another platform to solve this easier. That’s fine. However, when you get to one of the stills, a black hole shows up and this would be a perfect time to teleport the player back down to the bottom. You HAVE to go to the bottom to get to the other ramps, so why not respect my time and just teleport me there? It’s a small problem but backtracking needlessly has always bothered me and I felt it could be done better here.
Time Part 1
Time part 1 is one of the worst game design choices I have encountered in a puzzle game. The first part of this has you back in the lighthouse hub painting. You see doors with clocks over them spread out everywhere. The trick is to match your pocket watch time to the doors and walk through only those.
After a few of these, you enter a spiral corridor with doors on the left and right with clocks over them. You immediately go with the clock matching again because that is what the game taught you. however, as you move close to the clocks you notice the hands move constantly. As you walk in one direction there is a number on the left wall that will increase by 1 every 10 doors (or decrease if you walk the other direction). There are so many things here that feel like a clue to the puzzle.
There is no puzzle
This is all a ruse. There is no puzzle in this room. You are playing nothing but a random number generator and are never told that is what is happening. In fact, the only way I found out was after over 10 minutes I looked at the guide the dev provided me and in it, I saw this “Behind any of those randomly opened doors, the game will decide to take you elsewhere or keep you there and play with you. This is a place where time has no meaning and value, so I just wanted you to feel that as well : )”.
This part of the game is literally playing with you as a cat plays with its food. It presents itself as a puzzle and makes you go insane thinking you have the right idea. It doesn’t follow the unspoken contract the game laid out in each puzzle room before this. The one that gives hints to get through with the promise of a solution. I spent 22 minutes, going through doors and trying different ideas. I almost gave up on the game in this room. In fact, the last door I tried, had it not worked, I would have quit.
This design choice is such a big no-no for me when it comes to puzzle games. The great puzzle games out there present puzzles that all have a solution to them that you must find. Then they present contextual clues to you to lead the player to that “aha” moment. You shouldn’t need a guide to make it through a well-thought-out puzzle. Spending 20 minutes opening doors hoping something works does no service to the previous puzzles that used well-thought clues to solve.
After posting this review I reached out to DP Games to inform them of my experience regarding their final puzzles. They responded that they had received very similar problems from others and reworked the Time 1 & 2 Puzzle. I am happy to report that Time part 1 now actually is a puzzle and no longer a number generator. There is a trick to it (I do not want to spoil it) that is pretty clever and I feel this was a great way to have redone this puzzle. I’m happy to see a dev that is open to seeing the problems their players are having and finding clever remedies to these issues. They had reworked Time part 2 as well but I will be honest the issue of not having enough time never happened to me so this update didn’t quite affect me. This update has adjusted my score for the better (see below) and know that the devs are still listening and updating.
I won’t lie, this is a disappointing review for me to write. I truly loved my time with the game up until the ending fell so flat for me. There is far more here than that 1 puzzle but the chances seem to be too high that someone else could experience the frustration that I did. I will note I think this is something that can be fixed. Make the probability increase after a couple of minutes. Don’t trap your players like this.
Overall the game gave me a couple of hours of good fun before I went through hell. Sadly, the last puzzle isn’t much of a challenge (other than testing how long you’re willing to go through doors). I would have loved a much tougher escape, you are fighting for your soul after all.
If you’re really wanting a new puzzle game grab it now, but I would personally wait and see if this puzzle will be fixed before buying.
Update: If you’re looking for a new first person puzzle game I can say this is definitely worth buying now. The game is beautiful, clever, and the devs have been working hard to address issues and take and implement feedback from their community.
Disclaimer: Summertime Madness was provided to me by the developer DP Games for review.
Summertime Madness is a beautiful and interesting journey with some clever puzzles and is worth being in any puzzle enthusiast’s collection.