They always say children should be seen and not heard. Well, what if that old adage actually applied to an entire town, and also included rules about not being out after dark and never asking questions as to why? Meet the Children of Silentown - emphasis on the silent. Poor Lucy is just a 12-year-old girl who wants to play hide and seek and other silly games with her friends, but the rules of Silentown are strict and mysterious. No shouting, no going out at night, and no asking the grown-ups for the truth.
What you do know is that the forest around Silentown moans and groans at night with the sound of monsters ready to sweep you into the trees, never to be seen again. The billboards in Silentown are plastered with the faces of those that have been lost, apparently taken into the woods by those moaning monsters. It's been going on for decades, and it gives the entire town a sinister feel, even in the daytime.
Children of Silentown's art style really highlights that sense of foreboding well. It paints a beautiful color palette that does well to hide its darker narrative tones, but the characters are all portrayed as spindly little things with oversized heads, and huge pupilless eyes. They're straight out of a Tim Burton film, and the narrative beats do feel very Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride-esque. In fact, the game actually started life as a short animated movie, and you can see that in the way the game is presented and how the story plays out.
Sing the fear away
That's in part down to the fact that Lucy's special ability is singing. Taught initially by her mother, and then by the sounds of the world around her, you collect notes to unlock various songs that allow her to interact better with the people - and the environment - around her. Initially, that's to unlock better dialogue with people by diving into their emotions, which involves solving button-threading puzzles. But later on, when events force you to head into the forest you so fear, you'll be able to actively change the world around you with the right song. That does involve more mini-games, some more frustrating than others, but the use of song is an interesting spin on what's otherwise a pretty classic point-and-click adventure.
As Lucy goes about her days across the game's five chapters, she'll get involved in a variety of childhood games, but also start to try and dig deeper into the mystery surrounding the various disappearances. She'll acquire various items, some of which will need combining together in true point-and-click style, in order to become useful. It's not the most obtuse point-and-click puzzle solving (which for me is an absolute win), so most of the solutions make sense if you've got the right gear. There are a few cheeky twists that might catch you off guard, but there's always a hint of the sensible and logical here.
Even if I did grow frustrated or get stuck on a mini-game or puzzle here and there, I constantly found myself pushing forward to find out what answers lay at the core mystery. Children of Silentown is a fantastic story at heart, which sidetracks through games of hide and seek, or figuring out what's bothering an old man only added to the enjoyment. It walks the line between tender and terrifying, with even the smaller moments overshadowed by the looming threat of the woodlands.
I'll admit the ending was a little unsatisfying, coming to a close rather abruptly after things really got interesting, and I think that perhaps is a negative symptom of its short film origins. However, even now some days later I'm still thinking about that strange, wide-eyed little girl and her antics in the forest. All those faces, the moaning, the questions. It's not a long game, coming in around 7-8 hours, so if you're looking for a point-and-click with darker tones, Children of Silentown it's well worth your time.
Children of Silentown is out now on PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Keep track of more exciting releases on the horizon with our roundup of upcoming indie games.