Stylishly late project summary by group leader Shé Edwards
Untitled Goose Game is a colorful, charming game about the delightful antics of one of life’s most devastating antagonists. The game was developed by House House, an indie game developer based in Australia composed of just four people: Nico Disseldorp, Jacob Strasser, Stuart Gillespie-Cook, and Michael McMaster. Fun and lighthearted slapstick seem to be their forté, as the studio previously released a multiplayer game of a similar cute and cartoonish style named Push Me Pull You. Their most recent release became a hit for casual players and content creators alike, combining simple mechanics and character archetypes with entertaining puzzle-like objectives. The player waddles about the colorful world completing tasks, fulfilling the well-known power fantasy of being a particularly awful goose.
The game begins in a clearing with one simple instruction: Press _ to honk. A simple, white and orange goose pops out of the foliage, and if the player wanders downwards a peculiar ditch of bells comes into view. You take a short walk as you learn the mechanics — like the average goose, you can walk, run, bend forwards, use your beak, spread your wings, and of course, honk — and when you happen upon a garden you’re informed of your to-do list. From this point on you receive no instruction — it’s rather simple; you’re a goose, you have a to-do list… get to work. The tasks begin as simple as catching the attention of an npc and slowly increase in complexity– with the player eventually needing to distract, evade, and trap or trick in order to complete their list, much to the chagrin of the non-geese around them. Once the player finishes their list for that area, whatever disgruntled character was a victim of their crimes puts up a sign showing geese aren’t welcome — which the player can promptly tear down (as any respectable goose would) and then move on to the next part of the village, where they complete their next round of tasks. The final area the player gets to is a model village, with their final tasks being to snag the miniature bell and head home to toss it in the aforementioned unexplained bell ditch. In this way, the game manages a somewhat satisfying “punchline” — that this absurd goose to-do list of causing trouble throughout the village is somewhat of a ritual.
The minimalist structure and bright visuals of the game is surprisingly one of its most distinctive features, and ties directly to the more traditional aspects of the slapstick genre. By maintaining the definition of people, animals, and objects through easily recognizable 3D figures in bright, solid colors (such as the shape of a yellow bell, or red apple), the physical portrayal of comedic actions becomes the most distinctive aspect of the game. While the characters aren’t literally masked or disguised (as in the performance of slapstick in its earlier forms), they lack most distinctive personal features — they have a skin tone, a nose, the shape of their hair and/or hat, and clothing that is meant as much to personalize them as it is to make them easily recognizable to the player by their general labels. For example: the Groundskeeper has on gloves, boots, and overalls; the Boy is in casual shorts, stripes, and glasses; the Shopkeeper lurks around her shop area carrying a broom; and the old man wears a wool cap over short, white hair and pants (with suspenders, of course) that appear to be pulled up stereotypically high. This simplistic yet visually pleasing approach makes much more noticeable the exaggerated movement details characteristic of slapstick; everything from the way a character may jump in shock and chase you with arms waving to the silly yet empowering waddle of the Goose you control.
The controls of the game themselves are limited and even somewhat clumsy, as are those of some of the most popular slapstick games. The choice of character model typically sets the framework for this, as these games often feature inherently clumsy creatures or objects that are fun to look at — popular examples being the sloppy octopus-dad in Octodad: Dadliest Catch, or even the physics-defying goat of Goat Simulator. Geese are awkward looking animals that move about in a less-than-precise waddle, so that’s just what the player is meant to work with — and it’s more than enough to get the job done. The physically styled structure of the game accentuates another defining aspect of most games in the slapstick genre — an absurd premise that, despite maintaining some degree of obscurity, pushes the player in a somewhat coherent direction. It is important that the “plot” of the game be silly or random enough to be entertaining, but still balance itself with an understandable expectation and progression. For example, the absurdity of this game lies in the fact that you’re a goose with an oddly disruptive (and for some reason, ritualistic) to-do list, and once you give up on answering the questions that small detail raises (such as: “Why?”), every other aspect of the game is fairly intuitive and uncomplicated. The player has a clear sense of direction in its most literal form — a list of tasks meant to be completed before you can move on to the next area. The game also uses this detail to encourage the player to do some independent exploration, as you are given an alternative list with optional hidden tasks that only reveal themselves as you complete them.
Even the way objectives are concluded in the game lends itself to common constructs of the slapstick genre. The game’s comedic aggression combined with the ensured recovery of the characters reflect aspects of slapstick that have defined the genre since it’s earliest performance-centered forms — such as in commedia dell’arte (an early form of professional theater) and the art of circus clowning, two of slapstick’s recognized foundational influences. In this particular game, the player can be considered the ringmaster and the other characters the clowns — but their differences are reflected in their species rather than their status (or depending on whatever animal rights argument you might make, both). The tasks themselves, while often irritating to the characters, seem to prompt no seriously harmful or punitive consequences — a conclusion that is only strengthened by the implication that the goose has taken this exact route of mischief multiple times. As in circus clowning, the victims of the Goose’s antics always recover, which serves two notable purposes; the player has a chance to retry actions and set-ups on NPCs (as they will go back to normal behavior if left alone), and none of that pesky empathy humans tend to have can get in the way of the game’s immersive experience. A large part of the satisfaction in playing the game is drawn from the fact that actions towards the characters are malicious but essentially harmless, and thus the player can enjoy the effects of their destructive actions in good conscience. As mentioned before, this is no new concept in slapstick, but a rather underappreciated one — unfortunately so, as “Clowns always rebound” strikes me as a motto to live by.
The thing that can be appreciated most about Untitled Goose Game is that every aspect of it encapsulates slapstick as an art in the most delicate of ways. The game is minimalistic in both style and concept, but each feature strategically directs the player to its key elements. While the game does tie together some of the most common tropes of the genre, it is in no way lacking in originality or variety; there are plenty places to go and people to honk at — and the bright and welcoming setting, beautifully styled animation, and airy and playful soundtrack allows Untitled Goose Game to build an experience that prompts an almost childishly simplistic joy.