Varney Lake is an interactive novel developed by LCB Game Studio and published by Chorus Worldwide Games. It’s the second installment in the Pixel Pulp series of story games, a collection of paranormal tales that began with the Mothmen 1966. Both games feature a minimalist design that harkens back to older text-based games like the original Oregon Trail, and Varney Lake continues in the footsteps of LCB’s previous title with a story As exotic as it is attractive.
The game starts with the protagonist Jimmy and two of his friends, cousins Christine and Doug. Alone and unsupervised in the summer of 1958, the three members of the so-called “Only Child Club” dedicated themselves to raising enough money to purchase a drive-in abandoned theater while on their summer vacation at Lake Varney. They plan to do this with what is essentially children’s gambling, making the Only Child’s Club one of the most ambitious groups of young wanderers I have ever seen.
You learn a bit about the three and their dynamics early on. Doug is kind of a chubby kid nerd, and is allergic to the sun which requires him to use a special cream that Jimmy doesn’t like the smell of. Jimmy has a crush on Christine and struggles to make a move on her, which becomes the main driving point behind his actions throughout the narrative. Unfortunately for him, Christine has a boyfriend in her home town, so in Jimmy’s mind, he only has the summer together to win her over.
The group soon find themselves on the run from a local big bully after Jimmy reveals that he “robbed” him the day before. The group ends up crossing a river and stumbles upon an old seemingly abandoned farmhouse, deeming it worthy as the club’s new hangout. Instead, they are surprised to discover an old man inside the farm, hiding from the sun’s rays.
“He doesn’t need any cream,” says Jimmy to Dog, who offers the stranger sun allergy cream. As they help block out the sun for the old man, Jimmy ominously remembers his grandfather, who looked and acted in a similar manner to the stranger. It is his knowledge of his grandfather’s condition that directs the group to block the barn windows, via an easy little puzzle.
Hiding it from the sun, the old man lured a deer into the corral. The children are dumbfounded and watch in silence as the old man raises his hand, and the deer follows him, as if in a trance. Only when he exposed his fangs and tears into the deer’s neck did the gang realize they were face to face with a vampire.
Then the narrative breaks down the stories of Lou, an author who talks to Jimmy about his experience with vampirism in hopes of writing a new book with the details. 27 years later, Jimmy isn’t quite the adventurous boy we’ve seen before; He looks cold and broken, and the game describes his face as having forgotten to smile.
When an older Christine walks in, the conversation turns to a discussion about Doug, who is missing from the dinner table around which they had gathered. The narrative then moves to 27 years ago, to a summer on Lake Varney, from Chirstine’s perspective. The game will continue to switch viewpoints like this throughout the story, giving you a look at each character’s experience during that fateful summer.
The start of the game is strong and fresh and does a great job of not only setting the tone for what’s to come, but also setting your expectations for what the game will carry forward. The first fifteen minutes of the game not only gives you a great introduction to the narrative, but also gives you a small taste of what little gameplay you’ll be dealing with. You can decide right away if the text-based puzzles are something you’ll want to sit through the entirety of Varney Lake.
Calling Lake Varney an interactive novel or story is a more accurate designation than a “game”. This is not to preserve or downplay Central Lake Varney. Instead, I think thinking about it this way gives players a more accurate picture to build their expectations around when they get into this title.
Varney Lake does not feature any complex mechanics, quick time events, strategy or anything that requires quick reflexes or deep thinking. The puzzles in the game are more tests of logic and reading comprehension and are navigated by selecting text prompts. You won’t need more than three or four buttons, or just a mouse to play this game.
Rather than compelling gameplay, you play Varney Lake for the great story and the tools you use to present it. The game makes use of the visual medium to tell its story without using too much text on the screen. A mixture of short one- to two-sentence clips with visuals, sometimes just visuals, conveys the tone of the scenes and characters very well.
The use of pixel art is the story, and it’s already quite interesting in its own right, which is a great service, and certainly makes Varney Lake a must-try for readers in any medium. The game will take about 2-3 hours to complete, longer if you play all the mini games, which is enough time for the game to tell its story without going over the welcome window.
The last word
Varney Lake is a wonderful interactive story, presented in a way that will appeal to casual and hardcore readers alike. The story is interesting, the characters are great, and the modest $10 price tag reflects the game’s shorter runtime.
Varney Lake reviewed on PC. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the game reviews section of our website! Lake Varney is available at steamAnd Nintendo Switchand the Playstation Store.