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Pilgrims: a Micro Card-based Adventure

When I think about Amanita Design, I think about Machinarium and the beautiful hand-drawn art with a dark twist. As soon as you lay eyes on the screenshots below, you’ll immediately reckognize the style if you’ve played Machinarium before. The game is simply stunning and its style oozes charm: I simply love the way the pencil and colors come to life. In Pilgrims, the effect is even more pronounced as the adventure takes place on a small subset of the screen estate. It looks like an artist drew something and threw it under a cemara: even the corners look a bit crumpled to emulate physical paper. The scenes are static—no scrolling involved—but the figures with appropriately stiff ragdoll animations are able to interact with certain things on stage, such as picking up a coin, dipping a bucket in a puddle of water, or hitting silly old bats with a broom.

It’s hard to describe how beautiful it looks and the screenshots don’t do it much justice. But it’s even harder to describe what Pilgrims actually tries to achieve: is it an adventure game? Is it a card game? Is it an exposition of the artist that also happens to be interactive?

Every Pilgrim depicted on the front cover—except the priest—will tag along and can be “chosen” to play with by picking their respective card. Once you’ve chosen your pilgrim, another set of character-agnostic cards appears below the scene, which represents your inventory. Pick up a coin, a couple of flowers, a piece of rope, or a mushroom, and each one will be translated into another card in your deck.

Cooking some potatoes we dug up, because you never know!
Cooking some potatoes we dug up, because you never know!

Don’t be blinded with all that card action though—Pilgrims is far from a card game. There is zero deck building involved, and cards have zero “value”. It’s just a neat way to represent typical inventory management and actions you’re issuing in other games using SCUMM-like verbs. The mouse pointer allows you to interact with stuff on screen, and playing a card will result in a funny scene where things might or might not work out well. For example, playing the booze card might result in your pilgrim becoming mates with the local priest, as he drinks up everything. Other characters you encounter might not be interested in the booze. If you give that same priest an acorn, he’ll look at it and carelessly throw it back to you, turning it back into a card.

There are multiple ways to solve a situational puzzle, hinting at the high replayability of Pilgrims. The whole pilgrimage costs €5—if you buy it through, you get the soundtrack by Tomas Dvorak for free—and is finished in less than an hour, but the game rewards each failed attempt at solving something with a funny animation and an unlocked card. If you drink too much beer at the local pub, you pass out. This has zero gameplay value except that it amused me and I just wondered what would happen. If you dip fly agaric soup into a lake you’ll intoxicate the local lake inhabitant—again, for no reason except for fun and giggles.

Don’t you just love games like this where you can explore what’s possible and even get rewarded if you attempt to tackle a puzzle in a silly way? This is a pilgrimage, after all. A tiny one, but a pilgrimage nonetheless.

The adventure takes place in various places of this hand-drawn map.
The adventure takes place in various places of this hand-drawn map.

What’s the purpose of the game? Well… to have fun? To enjoy the beautiful art? There is no story. Encountered people will give you something to do but that’s just another puzzle. As you wander around, you gradually learn that each pilgrim yearns for something different: the burly hunter wants treasure, the old lady just wants her house back, and the devil wants to… kidnap someone?

I’m doing a soddy job at explaining the game. I loved every minute of it, mainly thanks to the quirkiness, the visuals, and the unique card-based design that somehow is not really a part of the main mechanics. Unfortunately, the game is over before you even know it. Even after replaying it a few times, I still felt that this could have been something much more. It feels like the prelude to draw you in, and then abruptly ends as the pilgrim with the hat crosses the river.

a boat ride on the beautiful river emphasizes Amanita's excellence in art.
a boat ride on the beautiful river emphasizes Amanita's excellence in art.

This ultimately left me wondering where to put Pilgrims on the list of excellent games. As far as its adventure game mechanics go, it’s very minimalistic: basic inventory management (combinations by drawing multiple cards for example isn’t even possible) and extremely simple puzzles are everything Pilgrims has to offer, really. Of course this doesn’t mean it should be called a forgettable game: the art, unique presentation form, and the goofiness of it all will make sure you won’t.

But will I be playing this game again any time soon? The game was in development for two years, and finished by me in just over half an hour. In a sense, the pilgrimage is over even quicker than one of the earlier Game Boy games! I just wish there was more to see and do. Even though the replayability factor is quite high, just unlocking all funny mishaps doesn’t do enough for me to consider Pilgrims one of the best I’ve played.

What I can say, though, is that it’s clearly one of the most charming and beautiful hand-drawn games I’ve ever played.

Plenty of funny interactions left to unlock after my first playthrough.
Plenty of funny interactions left to unlock after my first playthrough.

Verdict: 3/5 —Good.

Categorized under: Adventure


I'm Jefklak, a high-level Retro Gamer, and I love the sight of experience points on old and forgotten hardware. I sometimes convince others to join in on the nostalgic grind. Read more about The Codex here.

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