Review: Last Day of June

Rarely have I played a game that has managed to tug at the heart strings in such a way that I felt raw and exposed and completely gutted. Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons managed to completely sucker punch me with the ending. Papo & Yo left me questioning my role as a father and whether I was the best I could be for my kids. Bioshock Infinite blew my mind with the infinite possibilities and left me shaken at the revelation of Elizabeth. Journey was an exploration of loneliness and companionship and the fight to stay together through the bitter end. Now, Ovosonico’s Last Day of June has managed to successfully rip out my heart and stomp on it while simultaneously punching me in the gut.

Last Day of June is an adventure game that tasks players with reliving events leading up to a car crash that left husband and wife, Carl and June, wheelchair bound and dead, respectively. The game opens with the happy couple taking an impromptu trip out to a romantic spot at a nearby lake, but a heavy rainstorm forces them back to their cottage in the village. Driving down the road, Carl swerves the car to avoid the Kid, who jumps into the street to retrieve his soccer ball. Crunching metal and screeching tires provide an audio bridge to Carl waking up in his chair next to June’s empty chair.

Reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day, players take control of Carl, the Kid, the Best Friend, the Hunter, and the Old Man in sequence, going about their own daily routines, performing tasks that ultimately merge to cause the accident. Each character has the chance of changing their routine to impact a different outcome, and each time Carl wakes up to the same result: June’s empty chair and him being bound to the wheelchair. Since players must choose particular paths for each village member, there are times when a choice is bad for one person yet positive for another, ultimately unlocking further opportunities to play out the story.

I find it difficult to talk about the game without giving away the ending and emotional impact it had on me. Suffice it to say, allowing players to take control of the four characters gives a deeper understanding of each character and their own interactions with Carl and June. Players initially control the Kid. The game resets the day if June dies in the car crash. Once players are able to successfully play as the Kid and have June survive, the Best Friend is then unlocked. Again the game restarts if June dies in the car crash. But what adds to the challenge in providing a successful day for the Best Friend is the need for players to have to break the good day for the Kid. Challenges are compounded once the Hunter is unlocked as both the Kid and the Best Friend must have their successful days altered to have a positive outcome for the Hunter.

Explaining Last Day of June‘s puzzle framework is also a bit tricky without giving too much away, but it basically consists of figuring out the patterns of when to give villagers the items they need to have a successful day. For example, the Kid’s successful day ends with him knocking a kite out of a tree and using a rope from the Old Man to be able to fly it; however, the Best Friend needs that same rope in order to keep her packed truck from spilling all over the road. Another puzzle involves the Hunter, who needs to shoot down a bird that has stolen an heirloom, and that bird needs to be chased into a particular set of trees by commanding his dog to guard the base of a tree in order to keep the bird from landing in that particular tree. Where the bird flies can lead to accessing new areas or inadvertently ending the day.

Glowing spheres throughout the village provide a visual story for each of the four villagers. While none of these collectible spheres are essential to learning how to solve the puzzle for each villager, they do provide a richer look at how everyone is connected. For example, several of the memory spheres are only accessible once the Kid uses his soccer ball to knock over barrels barring the way, and some barrels can only be accessed by opening gates from a particular direction or by other villagers from their particular starting yard.

Once the Old Man is unlocked, the game takes a turn, a final narrative thrust that doesn’t deviate, and forces players to the heartbreaking conclusion. Each time the Old Man starts his day, the game ends with June dying. Players must face the challenge of just how far Carl will go to save June. I was struck with an unexpected gut punch of emotion when I realized how to solve the final challenge. Trying different options with each villager, plus seeing their full stories through the spheres, brought me close to each character. The weight of the final decision was spectacular.

Last Day of June can become a little repetitious and reliant on trial and error, however by paying careful attention to the clues and cues provided by the game, I never got too stuck replaying any particular villager’s section for more than two or three times. Where the repetition mainly comes into focus is in the way that some of the mechanics are still used upon repeat “resets” even though the puzzle has already been solved the first time through. Some puzzles, once solved, skip the actual process of applying the game mechanics, while other times they don’t (based upon what condition is triggered solving the day).

Last Day of June is visually striking. Each character has an exaggerated head size, yet no actual eyeballs. Color plays a significant role in conveying the mood and tone of the story, with rich oranges, greens, and purples used during the happiest and warmest moments, contrasting with deep blues in the darkest moments of the game. The music throughout resonates and adds a powerful layer to the storytelling as well. Light and cheerful sections counter the darkest, harrowing moments.

I don’t want to completely over hype Last Day of June because of the way the ending resonated so deeply with me on a personal level. But I do want to say that the game is smart, funny, and beautifully crafted. Fans of puzzle adventures and games with strong narrative impact should find Last Day of June to be a deeply moving and rewarding experience. If those attributes don’t entice players, then they are likely to not feel anything by the end of the game anyway.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Clever puzzles
+ Interesting character designs
+ Beautiful use of color and sound
+ Heartbreaking narrative

Cons:
– Can become repetitive

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also on PC
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Ovosonico
Release Date: 8/31/2017
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher.

Buy From: PlayStation Store or Steam for $19.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.