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Perfect Tides (PC) artwork

Perfect Tides (PC) review

"Less Point Ďní Click; more Rem Ďní Nisce "

Itís hard to register much in the way of coherence when it comes to recording my thoughts on Perfect Tides, which isnít ideal when trying to write a review. So this isnít so much a snazzy introduction as it is a disclaimer. Maybe what comes after this will work out great and maybe it will be a barely comprehensive cacophony of random thoughts and ideas. By the time I drag myself over the finishing line, hopefully youíll come to see why that might be the most fitting way to discuss this game.

I guess Iíll have to start somewhere; Iím not really sure it wants to be a game at all. Technically, itís got all the Adventure trappings youíd expect. You pick crap up, shove it in your pockets and then use it in abstract ways to solve the myriad issues thrown at you. But thereís no obvious overarching mystery to solve or hidden truths to weasel out; Perfect Tides is less a grand quest and more a laser-focused character study of Mara. Mara isnít trying to save the world, or solve a string of horrific murders; sheís a moody, introverted, teenage girl battling under the crushing certainty that the entire world is against her.

At its heart, Perfect Tides is an anxiety-inducing retrospective of what a lot of us were like as awkward teenagers, written to such a brilliant degree itís prone to induce second hand embarrassment and a strong desire to apologise to parents. Mara is so perfectly trapped on her self-made island of misery, so hyper-fixated on her own collection of miniscule woes, she routinely rewrites the world around her just so she can stack up another layer of self-loathing. And because the game is played entirely from Maraís perspective, itís all taken with absolute seriousness.

Which is hilarious, because while the text on screen is recounting how the latest slight is no less than a personal apocalypse, her character representation is that of a fuming gremlin-shaped homunculus, stamping her little feet, or literally shaking with incandescent rage. Itís clear you're supposed to find the juxtaposition funny, the Greek tragedy narration coupled with the looney tunes animation. Itís an excellent way to showcase teenage angst. No one has ever suffered as Mara does, so long as your only citation on this is Mara herself. Most of the world looking in thinks sheís a bit of a clown.

Thatís not to say she doesnít have valid problems, even if she tackles them with a complete lack of grace and empathy. A few years before the start of the game, her family suffered the loss of her father. While Mara has no problems throwing this in peopleís faces to gain sympathy points, the ongoing hurt is plain to see. Maraís mother is not handling the loss of her partner well, but her endless little cries for help openly infuriate Mara who can only see them as personal attacks. Then, one late night, Mara finds her tearful mother in front of a television, vulnerably wallowing in torturous memories. For the first time, Perfect Tides gives you, the player, the chance for Mara to put someone else first and offer some kind words. Except, itís a trap. Barely a muttered nicety later, Maraís found a way to make even this moment decisive proof that sheís the real victim here.

Maybe youíll find yourself relating to the aftermath of losing immediate family. Perfect Tides is filled with horrible little things to relate to, even if the comparison isnít particularly flattering. For example, Mara thinks herself a writer of some esteem, which must be true because she uses punctuation on IM chats and is held in regard on a fanfiction forum. That certainly didnít register with me, the guy still writing pretentious video game reviews fifteen years after Youtubeís made them obsolete. Thereís also a wonderfully fleshed out supporting cast of assorted miserable dicks, and youíll be sure to find some who help remind you of the miserable dick you used to be. Or maybe it will play to your age; Perfect Tides is set in the 90ís, filled with AOL messenger handles, dial-up modems and MSDos prompts. It even makes a Flagpole Sitta reference right in the first screen just to see if anyone gets it (but no one ever does).

Itís a shame the game works so bloody hard to make sure youíll probably never see the best moments it has to offer.

To get the best possible endings, you need to complete numerous little quests that you have no idea even exist to fill up invisible affinity metres with people you might not realise are important. It was a small miracle that I saw the corner of a floppy disk poking out of a random sand dune on an obscure beach I had little reason to visit. But I did and thus was able to reclaim it, but was I able to link that to its owner through the back half of an irrelevant conversation? Letís say I did; before I returned it to its owner, did I think to run it through my own computer to flick through the files like a creepy stalker? If I missed any of those things, then Iíve broken the link in a chain of random shit that stops me from unlocking the best ending.

My favourite moment in Perfect Tides comes right near the end. Here, Maraís straight up tricked out of her cloud of pessimism and, almost accidentally, invests in repairing a withering bond rather than kicking the crap out of it while itís down. That it happens so close to the end of the game means thereís a rare air of optimism to the closing of Maraís tale; that thereís a chance this is where she turns things around. Youíll probably never find it; the entire thing hinges on the seemingly random allocation of a free chocolate bar. You can (and, most likely, will) miss any indication to a light at the end of the tunnel if you donít strictly follow a line of events you donít usually know even exists.

Perfect Tides needed to do a better job at letting the player know this, because hiding its most uplifting moments almost seems spiteful, like itís spent too much time around Mara and wants to harm itself and those around it so misery has the appropriate amount of company. Maybe thatís somewhat poetic in an abstract kind of way but, realistically, itís bloody infuriating. Iíve been around this genre for a long, long time. Iíve survived the horrors of L-Space; Iíve rescued and repurposed the stupid rubber ducky; Iíve outwitted and restrained that damn goat. But it was an egg roll in this game which was the puzzle that pushed me closest to my breaking point. At least the previous puzzles let me know they were fucking puzzles in the first placeÖ

So, either go in with an (ideally spoiler-free) checklist of the stuff you need to do or prepare to make an exhaustive catalogue of saves if you want to witness the best Perfect Tides has to offer. Itís a hell of a lot of hassle to coax these moments out, so it should be a statement in and of itself that Iím still recommending you try.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (January 14, 2023)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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honestgamer posted January 16, 2023:

I'm not sure if you've made this sound like a game I definitely need to play, or one I definitely need to avoid, which is about how I feel about thinking too hard on my awful teenage years. I do try to avoid that when I can, though I was a "good" child, because the chief bright spots were reading, writing, and video games. I'm better off looking back on the entertainment of the era than I am pondering the sort of person I was at the time. Still, you've done a commendable job of making me feel as if I've played a bit of this game and making me want to finish the job I never started. Great stuff!

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