It’s something many of us may have thought about in those idle moments, awake at night as we consider what we would have done differently if we could replay the day again. What moments would change for the better? What different paths could be taken? How would it affect life?
Bill Murray, in the brilliant film Groundhog Day, explored this and now we can too, thanks to the Chinese game, A Perfect Day. Games set in China are particularly rare, so it’s with great delight that we are able to play through a different country and culture. Let’s see how the day turns out.
There haven’t been many games set in modern-day China. I say modern day, but A Perfect Day is actually set on the eve of the millennium in 1999. China at this time was going through massive changes, both politically and culturally, as the country’s commercial enterprises were now turning into a major financial powerhouse.
But to take things back down to earth you play as a schoolboy, in class, before the New Year holidays. Suddenly for some reason, the head cancels all classes early and you get to then have the whole day free. You decide to try to create a perfect day. The schoolboy’s first order of play is to give a romantic card to a girl in his class, and this task leads him all over the city. Throughout the game, you meet school friends, your father, and other strange encounters.
A Perfect Day is a great visual novel but with some fun mini-games and tiny puzzles to solve along the way. The loop mechanics are good and I liked the strangeness that is mixed with inherent realism as well. It is like a quirky independent movie at times, with some great dialogue and set pieces. More importantly, it is fascinating to be able to explore a certain time in an unknown culture, but still with very familiar human dilemmas going on; love, family and being young.
Gameplay wise it becomes a mix of a point-and-click adventure and some mini-games that were popular in China at that time in history. Sometimes the control system doesn’t feel as intuitive as perhaps it should, and maybe a move from PC to console is to blame. However, it all works and you move into different locations, examining items and people to trigger certain conversations and deal with situations. There is an inventory system that works well and some brilliant objects to collect along the way.
The mini-games are great. There is a section in A Perfect Day in which you get involved in a toy car race. You can even put together a car of your making and race in comps. There is also an arcade mode on a “Gamicon” console, letting you collect cartridges and play these games. Some of these are great fun and for gamers who remember these experiences from years gone by, it’s going to be a joy.
A Perfect Day is also a game in which the visual style captures you; feeling unusual but also familiar at the same time. The game looks like an illustrated book you might have found in a children’s library, full of brilliantly drawn characters and locations with a wonderful attention to detail throughout. I loved the visuals and the world completely sucked me into the atmosphere of 90’s China. The soundtrack is nicely made as well with some great effects. Some could point to a lack of voice work, but it doesn’t seem to need it.
A Perfect Day is a very original experience, especially in terms of gameplay and the structure of the narrative. But it is also original in terms of allowing westerners to play a game from a different cultural standpoint. I very much enjoyed exploring the world, the locations and the characters. But also the mini-games were a highlight with some great old-school games to discover.
There are some control issues and the pace of A Perfect Day might not be for all, but mostly this is a game full of nostalgia. In fact, it’s great fun to try and recreate A Perfect Day.