Trash or treasure? If you take up metal detecting, you can expect most of the former. Rusted nuts and bolts. Bottle caps. Tent pegs. Even the rare earring, brooch or bangle, on closer inspection, is typically just costume jewellery. But, you hang in there, hoping for the big score that will get your name in the paper, and pad your bank account.
It’s a hope-against-the-odds experience not dissimilar to playing The Magnificent Trufflepigs, a new indie narrative adventure centred, you may have guessed, on metal detecting. Trufflepigs is never trash, but the treasures only glint momentarily, and the game feels only moderately satisfying as a result. Which is a pity.
Although it’s the debut project from developers Thunkd, The Magnificent Trufflepigs comes with quite the pedigree. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture designer Andrew Crawshaw heads up the project as Thunkd’s founder, while Trufflepigs enjoys the backing of AMC Games (the “offbeat games” division of AMC Networks) and SundanceTV. You also have seasoned performers, Doctor Who star Arthur Darvill and Safe House actress Luci Fish, voicing the game’s two leads.
In first-person The Magnificent Trufflepigs, you play as Adam (Darvill), who answers a call for help from his long-ago ex Beth (Fish). Beth’s request is peculiar. She has one week to locate a lost earring on a local farm, before its new owners arrive. Over-achiever Beth has been a metal-detecting hobbyist – nicknamed a “trufflepig” by her father – since childhood, and unearthing the earring will be her greatest find. But what starts as a cheerful treasure hunting expedition, and catch-up under blue skies, becomes emotionally charged as Adam delves into Beth’s true motivations.
Essentially, there are two components to The Magnificent Trufflepigs. The first is a metal-detecting sim, with a postcard-perfect portion of English countryside as its backdrop. The second part, which primarily takes the form of walkie-talkie conversations, is part romance, part deep- dive character study, shaped by a smattering of dialogue choices among the scripted interactions.
If only one thing in The Magnificent Trufflepigs can be considered treasure, it’s the interactions between Adam and Beth. Elevated by Darvill and Fish’s performances, the couple’s conversations are punctuated by moments that beep – they’re metal detecting, after all – with authenticity. The complex yearning to reunite with an ex, yet respect their wishes to keep things platonic. Wilful self-denial about definitions of success and happiness. The Magnificent Trufflepigs’ observations about life are potent and linger long after you’ve finished the 2-3 hour game. (Studio Thunkd are intentionally making what they call “evening-sized games.”)
At this point it’s worth mentioning the obvious comparisons between The Magnificent Trufflepigs and Campo Santo’s Firewatch. There’s the striking, stylised outdoors setting with environmental changes that reflect the story’s emotional evolution. You have walkie-talkie banter between a faceless man and woman who have obvious chemistry. Mystery intrudes on the primary story from the borders. Maps and photo-taking are gameplay elements. And narrative chapters are split over days.
It’s a disservice to continually compare the two, but if you really want a catchy description for The Magnificent Trufflepigs, you could get away with calling it the British cousin to American Firewatch.
That said, there are some odd choices in The Magnificent Trufflepigs that continually dampen player satisfaction.
Want to lose yourself in a relaxing treasure hunt? Sorry, that’s out of the question. Adam is working against the clock at all times. Just as you start slipping into “the zone,” Beth will interrupt over your comms channel. If she doesn’t, your metal detector’s battery inevitably needs charging, and there’s a mandated lunch break. It’s impossible to fully cover a search area in a day.
Want to feel a sense of detecting accomplishment? Brace yourself (though you are warned in the developers’ notes) to find nothing but rusty, battered rubbish. Following each find, you’re forced to photograph and have unskippable conversations about it. The metal-detecting gameplay doesn’t become more complex either as the game progresses. There’s no piecing together of found objects, or examining them to advance down story threads. It’s a missed opportunity not to have the treasures create a sense of past lives lived in the game’s quaint hamlet setting. You simply explore a different field each day.
Want to solve a greater mystery in this universe? Unfortunately, The Magnificent Trufflepigs suffers from a case of bait-and-switch in terms of its teaser trailer. While murders, disappearances and even UFO sightings get a mention, the game squashes all intrigue.
Finally, there’s the weird downplaying of playable character Adam. The Magnificent Trufflepigs is Beth’s story, leaving the considerably more likeable Adam unexplored despite tantalising comments about his previous role in Beth’s life. There’s enough evidence to suggest Adam is an actual person, and not a figment of Beth’s imagination (other players may argue this point), but he – you – may as well be a ghost. Unlike Firewatch, where your character had a sense of physical presence thanks to limbs continually appearing in frame during object interactions, The Magnificent Trufflepigs adopts an alienating “floating tools” approach.
There’s no question that The Magnificent Trufflepigs is charming and poignant, but its pleasures are inconsistent. The game digs deep, but in hauling up and delivering its insights, it sacrifices an important sense of player fulfilment. That’s true whether you’re there for leisurely, immersive exploration, or emotion-centred narrative. The Magnificent Trufflepigs is out now for PC, and coming soon to Nintendo Switch.
Last Updated: June 7, 2021