Why The Mammoth: A Cave Painting is worth (5 minutes of) your time

The Mammoth: A Cave Painting is an incredibly short journey, but for what it’s worth it will occupy your mind for the handful of minutes in which it can be consumed.

The game itself is little more than a ‘point and hold’ adventure (it is a mobile game after all). Nevertheless, it is interactive storytelling in every sense of the term. But perhaps more importantly, it serves as a timely reminder of how intricate game design can be. As gamers, we often don’t need to be told what to do or where to go, despite what most triple A games would have you believe.

InBetweenGames understands this as the game lets you take control of The Mammoth with no clear indication of what has happened in this setting before, or direction regarding what it is you should be doing. And that’s the beauty of it. We’re indirectly told, nay, hinted by the voice of a mysterious narrator with regard to what we should be doing, and we’re able to work it out by ourselves. Nevertheless, phrases such as “the mammoth headed west” are told with such certainty that it only felt right to abide by them, lest we disobey and cause unrest in the mammoth kingdom.

Subtle visual clues like arrow heads will occasionally appear if only to nudge you in the right direction, but for the most part, players are left to their own devices and won’t have to think too hard about what is required from them. The pre-historic cave-painting-inspired art style certainly does a fine job of holding your hand without grasping it too firmly like your great grandpa used to. You will quickly learn that you are assuming the role of a mother mammoth who is searching for her babies. The youthful creatures are easy enough to find, but you might be surprised, and slightly ashamed, if you manage to abandon one of the poor souls by accident. This didn’t happen and I am a just human being.

I pray you do a better job of protecting your herd than I did.

Losing one of your closest companions (which I didn’t do) is actually quite saddening (but I wouldn’t know). Apparently if you run too fast and your offspring drag off the edge of the screen on your device, they will be abandoned and won’t return, but that’s just something I heard through the grapevine.

Alas, you will briskly be tasked with defending your loved ones against the hunters – a group of murderous evildoers out to end the lives of the baby mammoth if they haven’t already been rudely abandoned by their ignorant mother. I should probably never become a parent, in case that’s not obvious by this point. You can charge the mammoth at these hunters, but in my experience my children were vastly outnumbered and unfortunately did not live to tell the tale.

Then, it was over. The game took longer to download than it did to play, but whilst I strolled through it it got me thinking about how minimalist game design can get away with being. We don’t need to be told what to do or how to do it, but we do appreciate it when we’re given a wink and a nod here and there. Alas, that’s a debate for another time.

The pesky hunters are wonderfully akin to those found in real-world cave paintings.

If you’ve got five minutes to kill then give this game a go. It’s not going to take your mind off of pretending to be a nice, sociable person for long, but at the total price of £0/$0/0 whatever currency you like, you won’t be scoffing at the state of the economy either. Treat yourself to a digestive chunk of fun.

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