App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
User Interface Rating:
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I want to see more games that take risks, but I get why many don't. The Longest Road on Earth is a perfect example of why. It's a slow, monochromatic, and wordless adventure backed by a soundtrack by Beícoli. In concept, I'm totally on board with all of this, but The Longest Road on Earth struggles to communicate with you as you play, which makes it somewhat difficult to stick with, even considering how short it is.
The Longest Road on Earth is a game that follows the lives of a handful of animal-headed people. You jump between small scenes with each character, some of whom connect in some way, and some of whom who don't. Most of your job in these scenes is to tap and drag on the screen to make your character walk and then tap on objects of interest to look at them or progress the scene forward.
During all of this, Beícoli's music is your companion. There is no other in-game audio beyond the game's soundtrack, and there's no written or spoken dialogue to distract you from listening intently to the songs that play during each scene. These aren't hammy songs that narrate what's happening or anything, but rather mood pieces, most of which felt like they connected me to the scene or set the emotional tone, though some didn't accomplish this at all and felt like a distraction.
The pixel art in The Longest Road on Earth is gorgeous and has moments of animation that are magical. To maintain a cinematic look, the entire game has virtually no menus or on-screen buttons, though you can pause the experience by tapping the screen with multiple fingers, and prompts pop up over character's heads to indicate that you're supposed to tap or tap and hold to perform an action that advances a scene.
This minimalism comes with a trade-off, though. There are times in The Longest Road on Earth where it's unclear whether the game wants you to do anything, and you're stuck listening to music loops and waiting while the game is perfectly happy feeding you an animation loop endlessly until you tap through to move forward. Similarly, it's not always clear when controlling characters what you are supposed to be doing with them, so you often just have to pick a direction to walk in and hope it's the right one. Going the wrong way is almost never rewarding, as there is never something else to uncover, and the music tracks for a scene are only so long and loop back on themselves if you are in a scene for longer than expected.
The pacing and controls of The Longest Road on Earth only really feel like problems if you aren't feeling a particular song and scene combination. The unfortunate news here is that the game seems to go out of its way to create this disconnect. The pixel art rendered here makes it hard to detect any sort of expression from the characters or understand what it is they are doing. Once you hit an interaction point, you do get a little more insight, but oftentimes the takeaway ends up being something as flat as "oh they're at work," or "hm I guess this is a pretty long train ride."
By the end of the game, I was hoping there would be something that tied more of these scenes together to tell me something about how they are connected. It didn't even have to be anything literal, but anything would have been better than getting a few moments teasing convergence and then a somewhat abrupt ending. To me, all of this indicates that The Longest Road on Earth could have just used a little more direction to allow its unique perspective and artistic choices to bloom.
The bottom line
I don't want to be harsh to The Longest Road on Earth. I LOVE what it's going for. I want more games built around their soundtracks. I want games to have better soundtracks. I want games that try to tell stories in different ways, and I want those stories to feel like they come from a distinct point of view. The Longest Road on Earth has all of these things. They just don't quite come together in a way that will stick with me outside of a couple of scenes and songs.