When the Past Was Around Nintendo Switch Impressions – Life, Death, and Mourning
When the Past Was Around is a charming and beautifully presented point-and-click adventure that delves into life, death, and mourning.
The year 2020 featured some quality titles that dealt with the themes of life, loss, and death, such as Spiritfarer, Mosaic, Sea of Solitude, Coffee Talk, and Hades. When the Past Was Around is another title — an adventure point-and-click puzzle game — that delves into the vast intricacies of love, death, and moving on.
Despite its brief two-hour-long playtime, the game leaves you with a complex cocktail of emotions that lingers on your lips long after the last remnants of its experience has been drained from the glass.
When the Past Was Around stars a young woman named Eda. She herself is lost after tragically losing the love of her life, a young man only known as The Owl. As you explore the various environments and set pieces that represent their time together, you slowly learn more about this man; first revealing his appearance to and her and then the time they shared together in their cozy dwelling.
Not only are you, the player, learning about their relationship and the traumatic periods after his untimely death, but Eda is recalling these long memories trapped within photos, letters, The Owl’s violin, and more keepsakes. As you continue, you also begin to learn more about Eda’s own past and how it intertwined with The Owl.
Similar to Spiritfarer, the soft color palettes and minimal story create a relaxed and soothing environment more conducive to exploring how love, death, and mourning affect those left behind after the dearly departs. But even more so than Spiritfarer, When the Past Was Around centers a significant portion of this journey around music and the love both characters share for it. And what makes it feel so organically interwoven is how both the score and the puzzles combine music, specifically the violin, into each other.
Puzzles are simple yet well thought out and take full advantage of the unique environments of each “stage” of her life. Their logical progression and distinctiveness are standout and serve to add purpose to the exploration, rather than serving as mere filler to waste the player’s time. As such, the gameplay, unlike many adventure games, actually elevates When the Past Was Around and combines with the narrative to create a full and profound gaming experience.
Of course, none of this would be particularly effective if not for the downright gorgeous art style. The soft color palette blends beautifully with the painting like visuals and creates a delicate atmosphere that mirrors Eda’s equally delicate mentalscape. There’s a fragile atmosphere that permeates the game and inspires you to handle it with care, as if you’re gently holding Eda’s fractured heart in your own hands.
As mentioned before, the game lasts for about two hours in total. And after finishing I was completely torn on whether or not that was enough time for a truly satisfying experience. On one hand, When the Past Was Around feels perfectly paced, with exactly the right amount of content to flesh out the story and answer any lingering questions without dragging on endlessly or repeating plot beats. On the other hand, finishing left me with a sense of longing, wanting to continue experiencing her life journey.
When the Past Was Around originally came out for PC and was ported to Nintendo Switch in December. Since immersion is absolutely key in order to best experience the story, it was imperative that it works just as well as on PC. Thankfully, the Switch port is absolutely seamless, with zero performance issues; no slowdown or framerate dips, the resolution is sharp, and the sound design is just as crisp as on PC. It’s a relief knowing that players can have a portable version of such an excellent game with the performance literally unchanged between versions.
For those still on the fence, I implore you to give When the Past Was Around a fair shot. Though it’s a short game, it’s an excellent example of a title that accomplishes everything it needs by balancing gameplay, art direction, and story while giving players an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.