Adventure-horror game “My Big Sister” features a young girl who tries to save her older sister after they are both abducted from their home. Stranga Games — a one-man independent game company — takes an “Alice in Wonderland”-esque approach to twist mature content and place it within an eight-bit world. You don’t play as the sweet girl Alice but rather as a hungry, sarcastic and independent 12-year-old Luzia.
“My Big Sister” is one of six games Stranga Games has produced so far. All of the studio’s games combine similarly dark stories with light humor, using a creepy but cute art style and pixelated graphics. This game particularly uses music to bring this dark tale to life. Although “My Big Sister” can be scary, it isn’t necessarily a nightmare-inducing game. The top-down, eight-bit perspective makes it so that any blood or gore won’t be a bother for those who are not fans of this genre. Scare factors in this game do not rely on typical horror clichés — like jump scares — in order to make the player’s neck hairs stand on end.
The storyline of “My Big Sister” is rich, unique and at times harsh. The game explains that this is not Luzia’s story but that of her older sister, Sombria, as the two were thrown into a world filled with supernatural creatures. Luzia offers observational narration as the player interacts with the environment looking for items to solve simple puzzles in order to get her and her sister back home. As they further their journey, the plot unfolds along a deeper and darker path.
Each character has their own interesting personality and dialogue. The writing remains upbeat for the majority of the game — in spite of the darker themes — making it feel more like a graphic novel as you watch the plot unfurl. Conversations between Luzia and Sombria, for example, are surprisingly typical sibling banter. Compared with other games that try and fail to relate to current generational exchanges, “My Big Sister” is a breath of fresh air. Comedy and light satire are used as comic relief without sacrificing the dreary tone of the narration. When the player spends time inspecting a sink, Luzia says, “Water turns on. Water turns off. Yep, it’s a sink alright.”
Not all areas in “My Big Sister” are accessible or explained, leaving plenty to the player’s imagination. The designer never hand-feeds direction to the player, but rather leaves the player to figure out what is the right thing to do next and what exactly is going on in the game. Environments are rich with fantasy and mystery. One minute Luzia is in a run-down Chinatown and the next she’s in a magical forest. It may be easy to skim through these scenes, but if you examine closely, you can tell that there was a considerable amount of love and hard work put into the game’s making.
The game is relatively short, but there’s plenty to explore if you’re one to seek all the Easter eggs, unlock all achievements and discover each nook and cranny trying to connect the pieces of this mysterious setting. The further the story goes, the harder it is to decipher what is actually real. For those who want a quicker experience, there are time-saving additions like a simple menu with options for auto-dialogue and skipping cutscenes and a sprint control for times when you have to go from room to room to solve a puzzle or find a missing object.
In conjunction with Ratalaika Games, Grab The Games and Adventure Game Studio, “My Big Sister” was recently adapted for the Nintendo Switch, the PlayStation Store and the Microsoft Xbox Store. While the storyline starts out strong, there are moments where it seems to falter on the follow through or wrap-up, especially given the game’s psychological and impactful themes. However, it was certainly worth the play. The game feels unique compared to other games out there, and it’s important to support independent developers. Overall, gameplay didn’t feel stagnant, characters and places felt like they were straight out of a Studio Ghibli film and Luzia’s personality and character arc complimented the unnatural environment. There are multiple endings, but which one is the true ending?