A point-and-click adventure set during a quirky and satirical Cold War era proves to be a damn good trip back to the heyday of Lucasarts.
Most comedy stems from something tragic. I can’t remember who originally said it, but there’s a great quote that goes, “If I got a paper cut, that’s a tragedy. If you fell down an open manhole and died, that’s comedy”. We’re drawn to mercilessly mock those parts of the world that are so often tragic in nature merely as a sense of levity, as a means to find the optimism in a bad day. It’s what underscores every sitcom premise: F.R.I.E.N.D.S is about the persecution of the intellectual and the crisis experienced by many in their mid-20’s, Two and a Half Men is all about lonely people trying to find some kind of meaning in all the wrong places and The Big Bang Theory is terrible. This idea of tragedy as comedy kept running through my head as I played Irony Curtain, because even though I didn’t laugh at the antics unfolding on my monitor, I was thoroughly amused by how tragic it all was.
Irony Curtain: From Matryoshka with Love is a classic Point-and-Click Adventure game that pays homage to the classics of the genre, largely those created by Lucasarts back in the 90’s like Grim Fandango and Monkey Island. To this extent, it excels wonderfully by focusing on what made those games so memorable to begin with: Out-of-the-box puzzles that required players to really think of absurd and often ridiculous solutions to. Recent entries in the Point-and-Click Adventure genre have tended to focus less on intricate puzzles and off-kilter solutions but rather on pixel-hunting for hidden objects or more dialogue-based expanded stories. Irony Curtain proudly announces that pixel-hunting and dialogue options won’t be features, and it’s all for the best.
You’ll come across many, many silly situations that’ll require you to figure out how to get the homeless man in the subway to give you his candle or how to open a manhole cover when the crane operator requests a crate of vodka for his efforts. By holding the spacebar, you’ll be able to highlight any and all interactable objects on-screen, meaning the solution is never about aimlessly clicking until you accidentally stumble onto the right answer.
The game gives you all the ingredients and tasks you with baking the cake rather than hiding the eggs and preventing you from moving on until you find them. And even if this isn’t enough, a helpful hint system has been implemented, should you request it, if you ever get really stuck with a section. Admittedly, some of the solutions are incredibly obscure that I was forced to use hints to progress, and while confusing in the moment, a large part of classic Point-and-Click Adventures is how out of left field the puzzles are and in hindsight, the speed bumps I experienced actually served to better the nostalgia wave I was riding.
Just like those classic titles, Irony Curtain is emulating, it’s very corny in its writing. This isn’t a slight to the game, despite how occasionally grating it can be. Lucasarts is famed for how hammy and camp their stories were, so in relation to those Irony Curtain fits right in. The voice acting, while initially annoying, grew on me over time. All the characters are over-the-top and exaggerated caricatures of people we’ve no doubt seen in countless spy stories, and it works well. Even Kovalsky, a die-hard supporter of communism and Matryoshka, the fictional stand-in for Soviet Russia, is tasked with heading to his beloved country to save the Supreme Leader.
What unfolds there is a hair-brained scheme to rescue the dictator from assassination as Evan realises the ideals of communism he was sold on, the propaganda he consumed about how wonderful Matryoshka would be, is all fictional. His dreams, his ideals all come crumbling down around as the game unfolds. Starting out as an overly naïve, optimistic journalistic, Evan’s entire world-view is slowly shattered no matter how upbeat he remains. Again, it’s all very tragic.
And that goes for the environments. Beautifully designed and drawn locales (with some choppy animation, I’ll admit) do wonders to highlight the tragedies of Soviet Era Communism on the people. From the pristine interiors of the Supreme Leader’s palace to the broken, dishevelled streets, there’re details leaking from ever still image in this game with dozens of references, both subtle and not, to popular culture strewn about the place. As unnecessary as these references were, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I was able to draw Grim Fandango’s skeletal face onto Evan’s with soot. It’s self-aware, and while that doesn’t always make up for some of the more tone-deaf or out of place scenes, it at least softens the fall.
I’m really glad I played Irony Curtain. Its wonderfully stylised art-style and world really took me back to those days in front of the ol’ Windows 95 computer in my parent’s studio, playing Monkey Island for hours because I was stuck with what to do. While it doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, Irony Curtain is an enjoyable puzzle game that delivers an outlandish yet compelling narrative and will definitely keep your attention all the way through if you’re a fan of off-beat humour and absurd puzzles.
Last Updated: May 21, 2019