BUYING MILK – a mundane Gameboy adventure

For the inaugural review of this blog I’ve decided to look at Joseph Quested’s BUYING MILK, a game that comfortably fits in the category of games like I Am Bread that make mundane tasks epic and surreal. BUYING MILK helps you to realise that the tendency of video games to be centered around violent conflict doesn’t quite do justice to real-life problems (like running out of milk). But still, milk shortage is a problem that needs addressing and BUYING MILK provides a solid attempt. The reason that this game caught my eye was its brilliant Gameboy-esque graphics. The developer Joseph Quested has done a convincing job of recreating the grid-based, compact visuals of games like Link’s Awakening and James Bond 007 (a personal favourite). The extremely simple and blocky UI is a feature that I find particularly nostalgic. The game was created using the Unity 2D experimental preview which looks awesome but isn’t yet meant for production. However, the developer is, in his own words, ‘a bad boy’ and so decided to do it anyway.

BUYING MILK accurately recreates the perils of going to the store to buy milk (note: I steal my housemates’ milk and so haven’t yet verified this). The first challenge is to find the store. On an open map with a total of 16 screens, there’s only one screen that seems to be of any use to you and it’s conveniently located at the bottom left corner. While you’re finding your way, you can enjoy getting attacked by dogs, whose hits slowly deplete your three chicken drumstick health indicators, and risk your life trying to enter black blobs that look like openings.

Once you’ve found the store you’ll have to navigate your way past a bunch of bandits/angry shoppers/general bad guys armed with guns and swords (hopefully by this point you’ve realised that you have a sword as well). You go through, kill and get killed, go back to where you were, find some keys that don’t look like keys, find a gun, kill a boss guy, get a now-redundant health upgrade and your precious (and strangely well-guarded) milk.

The game is solid and runs pretty smoothly. Character movement is responsive and enemy collisions are accurate. Sometimes I found that my sword wouldn’t work when I wanted it to, making me easy prey for the angry shopper bandits. However, this was a relatively rare occurrence. For me the only really disorientating aspect of the game was the way in which the camera transitions between screens. It’s a characteristic feature of top-down adventure games like Link’s Awakening for the map to be divided into several panels, each of which may be roughly the same size as the display screen. When the player reaches the edge of a panel the player will be transported and the camera will move to the centre of the next panel. This has the advantages of making the map seem bigger and more labyrinthine, cutting on some processing power that might otherwise be spent on managing objects that exist outside of the current gamespace, and enabling the player to instantly get a strategic view of what’s ahead. BUYING MILK follows the same principle. However, rather than the screen transitioning when the player hits the edge, the transition only begins when the player has nearly completely left the screen, which results in a somewhat less smooth experience. The fact that I’m griping about something like this with a free game about buying milk is a testament to the fact that this is otherwise a pretty solid creation.

WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY IT

  • It’s about buying milk, which makes you think about life.
  • Enemies frequently hurt each other in a Laurel and Hardy way that I find very gratifying.
  • Bandits have inexplicably occupied your local store and regard milk to be the most valuable loot.
  • It looks like a Gameboy game.
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