Official GBAtemp Review
- Release Date (NA): March 24, 2022
- Release Date (EU): March 24, 2022
- Publisher: Raw Fury
- Developer: Geography of Robots
- Genres: Point-and-click
Shortly after the death of Catherine, her mother, Kay makes her way back to her hometown of Norco. Her return is less motivated by the need to say her farewell to her late mother but more by the need to find her missing brother Blake. But as her search continues, she discovers that Blake’s disappearance might be linked to their mother’s own investigation prior to her demise. Will Kay find Blake and at what cost? That’s what you’ll find out by playing Norco.
Geography of Robots has an interesting take on the fictional town of Norco. While it’s mostly set in a dystopian sci-fi backdrop with sentient robots, a cult wishing to leave Earth on their own spacecraft and a society dependent on technology, it also packs a distinctive surreal, almost Lynchian vibe. You’ll find giant birds merging with wires, a lake that gets you to experience trippy sights and even a floating orb that fights by your side.
While these examples might sound out of place at first, they fit well in the plot by means of appropriate execution; and are a sharp contrast to what other recent indie games like ANNO: Mutationem tried. The blend of dystopia, sci-fi and surrealism works well in Norco and gives it a characteristic flair of its own.
Also singular to the title is its focus on the narrative. The gameplay is mostly that of traditional point-and-click but you’ll come across verbose conversations and description of items across its three acts. Characters' as well as the scenes' descriptions are vividly portrayed through the text, sometimes with a dash of humour, to help you further immerse in the fictional depiction of Norco. Moreover, it’s interesting to just explore and see what the interactive elements will tell as you get to learn the story behind each.
If you’re a fan of narrative-driven games, Norco will be right up your alley; but if you don’t like reading too much while gaming, this title won’t do you much favours. But as far as the plot goes, Norco is gripping. You’ll get to play as Kay and Catherine, get different perspectives from different points in time to help you piece the story as well as learn more about the characters and others that join them in their investigations.
As a narrative-driven experience, challenge is minimal in Norco. Controls are mostly point-and-click, where you’ll get to talk to NPCs, drag and drop items to proceed or poke around to find clues and hidden aspects of the decor. There is also a handy mechanic to point out interactive elements of the scene you are in (saving you from mindlessly clicking on every element in a scene until something happens). While talking to NPCs, the game also offers visual cues that highlight the important bits (quite welcome as there’s quite some text to go through in this game).
While I found these assistive elements to be handy and help streamline the gameplay, leaving out the traditionally frustrating parts of point-and-click games, they might also be considered as an impediment to challenge.
Nevertheless, Norco keeps things fresh by mixing up different gameplay mechanics. As you progress, you’ll get to collect voice recordings incriminating members of a cult so as to dissuade another member to let you through an entrance. You’ll get to use an AR app to locate holograms across town. You’ll even engage in combat with your party members (ranging from a dog to a robot) where you’ll deal damage by clicking on targets at the appropriate time or by following patterns correctly.
Such blends of mechanics aren’t common in point-and-click games but it is well executed in Norco, and even feels fitting given that the game’s premise itself is a blend of surreal and sci-fi aspects.
I was also fond of Norco’s retro-inspired aesthetics. Each scene is rich with details rendered in hi-bit visuals while the original soundtrack adds to the retro vibes. To further mix things up with a bit of nostalgia, you can switch on the CRT filter on-the-fly.
While Norco offers an original experience and a gripping plot with its fair share of twists, I came across some technical issues. Most glaring of which was that the game is not controller friendly. I played on the AYANEO NEXT and could not even navigate the menu to save or exit the game properly. Clearly the game was not configured for controller support but I hope this changes in the future, especially with the rise in adoption of handheld gaming PCs.
In addition, I had some performance issues where the screen would be stuck in between scenes (such as when exiting the in-game smartphone) and this could only be fixed by force quitting the game. This happened even weeks after the launch date, which is not ideal.
Nevertheless, if you are looking for an original narrative-driven game with some interesting blend of gameplay mechanics, Norco will deliver on that.
NORCO Launch Trailer
- Gripping narrative-driven experience
- Original blend of gameplay mechanics
- Retro aesthetics
- Not optimally configured for controller support
- Some performance issues with in game menus not showing
- Lack of challenge can be divisive