Juggler Games new title My Memory of Us is an important video game. Serving as a metaphor for the Polish populace’s treatment and story during the Second World War, the game delivers an at times haunting and darkly brilliant tale, one coupled with beautiful little moments of warmth, humanity, and love.
Playing as a side-scrolling puzzle adventure game, My Memory of Us pulls from games like Brothers and Valiant Hearts in delivering it’s story. Neither one of the protagonists, two friends trapped in the horror of war and the holocaust speak. In fact, none of the characters ever say a word, the only exception to this is the unseen narrator guiding the tale. I can’t comment on how the narrator works within the larger story, Juggler Games didn’t have that in the demo I played, but I can say that the silent hero approach works wonderfully here.
Instead of words and text, the game conveys thoughts, feelings, and emotions largely via thought bubbles that pop over the various characters and through it’s beautiful comic book style cutscenes. Each are wonderful twists on the usual silent hero tropes.
What makes My Memory of Us story truly powerful is how some of the various sections in the game are based off of real-life events from the occupation of Poland. As the games developers explained to me, there are specific sections that serve as loving nods to the heroes of the past. From a nurse who saved over 200 people from Death Camps, to the head of an orphanage who instead of turning over the children in his care went to the camps himself. These astounding examples of heroism and unblinking selflessness within people offer up a powerful counter to the games bleak allegory on the Nazi’s devastation of Poland in the 1940’s.
That message is one made stronger by the fact that the two young protagonists are children, no older then 8 or 9. Everything is viewed through their eyes and thus the world of the game almost seems like a surrealist nightmare at times. The enemies are ironclad super soldiers with no trace of humanity. Metal dogs and machines clog up the screen with their menacing and blood filled eyes. The game takes on an almost old school Disney look slammed together with the blacks, whites, and reds that defined a film like Schindler’s List.
Yet, this surrealist nightmare works both ways. The art style of the game becomes an almost living tapestry, a third protagonist of the game. Wonderfully realized environmental storytelling is used to let players know of what’s happening inside the larger world.
A short propaganda film played during one part of the game, a happy cheerful family was shown slowly walking together. Upon seeing this I was offered the opportunity to solve a puzzle to reveal the truth, when I did so the full plight of the family was revealed. Working, shoveling, and slowly exhausting away in a camp.
This was an entirely optional puzzle but solving it helped to add further layers and pull back the curtains more on the horrors being inflicted on the populace, in one sorrowful yet brilliant moment I was pulled deeper into the world and sucked further into who this family was and how they connected with the children. Another small tale of a husband giving a letter to his missing wife brought with it a surge of the humanity and love deeply embedded in this tale.
My Memory of Us plays and operates like the classic 1990’s adventure games of old. It harkens back to an era and period of gaming that has largely been moved past. Yet, there is something strikingly timeless in a game like this when done well. Just as Valiant Hearts operated in a very similar puzzle-solving adventure game style, so to does My Memory of Us harken back to an bygone era to deliver a stunningly emotive experience.
Bleak, clever, full of heart and sorrow and tales of love, My Memory of Us caught me up in an emotional whirlwind and took me for a ride I never expected. Some games are meant to be more then simple fun, some games are meant to leave behind a larger impression, to tell a more powerful story. My Memory of Us is unquestionably one of those games, the only flaw I can throw at the game is the fact that I have to wait until next year to play the whole thing, that I have to wait to see how this emotional little tale of a boy and girl trapped in the most dire and soul-sucking of circumstances survive. I can’t wait to find out the answer.