Review | Varney Lake
Written by Amanda Van Parys
Varney Lake is a visual novel game created by author Nico Saraintaris and artist Fernando Martinez Ruppel and is part of the “Pixel Pulps” series of interactive adventures from developer LCB Game Studio. Now let’s get into our spoiler-free review.
Summer Vacation With a Creepy Man, Of Course
Varney Lake is the second installment of the Pixel Pulp lineup of story games. The first installment being Mothmen 1966, which I will make some deserved references to. Varney Lake is the summer vacation home of the “Only Child Club” comprised of cousins Christine and Doug and their friend, Jimmy. It’s the summer of 1954, and the young teens are excitedly planning games to win money from local kids. The Club is hanging out at the lake, talking about their dreams, and what they want to do that summer. As the strange name of their club suggests, they are only children, and also none of them have fathers. You learn a little about each of their backstories at the beginning of the game.
They are interrupted by sighting the local bully, Brandon, and run away. They run until they find an old mill with a strange, weak man hiding inside… the events after this will change their lives forever.
There are plenty of mini-games and directions you can take that will require more than one run-through to get a completionist score. Doug loves to create games to challenge other kids in the town to win money for the threesome to fund one of their dreams. There are 3 games I came across: Perfect 10 Solitaire (another solitaire game like the one that was featured in Mothmen 1966), Doug’s Matchstick Extravaganza, and Dice Hopscotch, there is also fishing where you can try to catch an elusive fabled fish (which I admit I had no idea how to navigate), and a weird button-response “game” (?) towards the end. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you get there.
If you played Mothmen 1966, you will notice the return of the writer, Lou, and Victoria and Lee’s strange son, Xantos. Lou meets with Jimmy and Christine in a diner in 1981 to discuss their memories and the next book he’s writing, the book that will hopefully dig him out of his writing slump (his most successful book involved the 1966 incident). We realize that Doug is missing in 1981, and as the story progresses, you will discover why he isn’t there to discuss the events of that strange summer of 1954.
The story is definitely less wacky and wild than Mothmen 1966. Not to compare the games too strongly, but there is a crossover of characters, so the story does overlap but not in a way that you’d have to have played the first Pixel Pulp game in order to know what’s going on here, but I would recommend it to add a little more context to characters that just appear for a scene or two as you might feel like you’re missing something.
After my previous review called Mothmen 1966 a wacky and weird ride, I found myself quite missing that in this installment. Varney Lake’s story feels more meandering with no action sequences, and it’s more of a discovery of what happened to the teens in 1954 rather than the straight line of events we experienced in Mothmen 1966. At one point, we get a small selection of 3 strange tales, and if you decide to skip them for some reason, at least listen to “Godfrey the Gluemaker” and thank me later. The ending does feel rushed, and I was surprised the game concluded when it did since I was completely expecting the story to continue and I was disappointed that it didn’t.
Simple Story Game Controls
The controls are as simple as they get, you press A to go through your text and the right bumper fast forwards to the next choice or pause in text. Y will also pull up a transcript. There are some strange turns of phrase and lost-in-translation moments, but it’s easily overlooked.
The mini-games in Varney Lake are quite easy and there are no action scenes to be seen. We get mini-games and decisions, that is all. I found this an interesting choice in gameplay and maybe the creators are experiments with more of a story-only style, but I do hope they return to some action in future installments. Give me something here!
There are very few settings including a language selection with a choice of 5 languages; then there are sliders for message speed, auto delay, master volume, music volume, and effects volume.
There are 4 secret scenes, and if you want to find more than one secret scene, then save some of your progress along the way for ease of access. There is no way to go back to a particular scene without saving. I uncovered only one secret scene that played after the end credits, so I don’t know if there are others sprinkled in the game.
Yet Another Pixelated Game
As far as the pixelated art style, what more can you say about it other than if it was well done or not? In this case, the style draws you in and, personally, I feel it’s definitely an improvement from Mothmen 1966. The summer of 1954 is comprised of light colors: purple, green, blue, and yellow. The summer scenes are bright and vibrant unless we are in a nighttime scene of black, purple, teal, and yellow—the same as all scenes from 1981 which are shadowy, signifying that something dark happened that summer and the effects are still being felt.
The sound effects are also in a pixelated style. The text typing is loud and somewhat jarring, but you can get rid of it in the sound effects slider or use A to auto-populate the dialogue. There is more of a hokey old-fashioned horror sound effect palette in Varney Lake. We get a lot of loud tones coupled with single-frame shots of characters’ reactions to the same occurrence. The sounds in general are muted and don’t sound like what they are intended to sound like—there is a weird inside joke about mating toads’ croaks between Doug and Jimmy, but the croaks sound nothing like frogs. There is minimal music, it seems the game is choosing sound effects over atmosphere. I wish there had been a selection of music, I think some dark, 80s-inspired music and pop 50s music would have served the game well.
With a low play time of 2 hours or less, I would definitely recommend this game if you are at all interested. The story is engaging, even though it ends abruptly. You might feel yourself wanting more, but if you save your progress along the way, you can go back and complete those mini-games you might have skipped or try to find the secret scenes. there isn’t much to dislike about this charming installment other than it ends too soon.
Xbox Series X
- Art Style
- Ease of Access
- Abrupt Ending
- No Variety In Outcomes