As one of the world's largest gaming conventions, E3 is home to mega-hits from well-known franchises like Super Smash Bros., Resident Evil, and Kingdom Hearts. While these games have certainly earned their place in the spotlight, one of the greatest joys of E3 is discovering hidden gems that aren't already household names. If you know where to look, E3 is also home to passion projects from small, independent teams hoping to share their digital babies with the world.
One of the best at this year's show was Scarecrow Studios' 3 Minutes to Midnight, a point-and-click adventure in the style of classic LucasArts adventure games. The game was playable on a laptop in a small booth at the edge of South Hall, far away from the long lines of West Hall games like Pokémon: Let's Go and Marvel's Spider-Man. It may have had a small presence, but it left a big impact.
3 Minutes to Midnight is set late in the 1940s. World War II is growing smaller in the rear view mirror, but that doesn't mean the world's a safe place. Somewhere in New Mexico, a secret plot to extinguish humanity has been set in motion. Our hero, Betty Anderson, wakes up to a deafening sound in the middle of the night and feels her house shake to the core. Even worse, she has no memory of who she is or what's going on in her life. As it turns out, the entire town is just as lost as Betty. Time to investigate for clues!
The first thing you notice about 3 Minutes to Midnight is the gorgeous art style. The stylized cartoon look is rich in color, and backgrounds have a surprising amount of depth and detail. Like most games in the genre, exploration is a key element of 3 Minutes to Midnight. Thanks to these beautiful visuals, exploring every inch of this game world will be a joy.
At E3 the demo was restricted to the Crystaline Lake campground setting, which houses a rather disturbing and unstable little girl named Pammy. Little Pammy (whose surname turns out to be quite appropriate for the setting), is the entire staff at Crystaline Lake...or at least what's left of it. Pammy has several distinct personalities, each with their own conflicting thoughts and feelings. As such, you'll have to choose your words carefully to navigate through the minefield of conversation and get the info you need.
The game's dialogue system is robust and engaging, often giving you a wide variety of responses. Is Betty feeling sassy? Sympathetic? Impatient? Chances are there's a response that conveys whatever emotion you're looking for. There were only three NPCs to interact with in the demo (or perhaps six or seven, if we're counting everyone living inside Pammy's head), but they were all interesting in their own ways. Even talking to a raccoon brought a smile to my face, as Betty can inexplicably understand its language perfectly, although the player only hears squeaking sounds. Betty attempts to negotiate with the critter over an item it's hoarding in its trash can, but eventually diplomacy breaks down and you have to get the spray bottle.
Like most point-and-click adventure games, finding items is crucial for solving puzzles and progressing the story. You'll want to click on just about everything to see if it's a collectible or if your current arsenal of items can interact with it in some way. 3 Minutes to Midnight also prominently features a form of crafting that lets you create new items from existing parts. This might be something simple, like combining a candle with citronella oil to scare away some pesky mosquitoes blocking your path, but there are also more complex and creative uses for crafting. By combining a plunger, a rope, a fire extinguisher, and some pipe, I was able to craft a plunger gun that functions as a hookshot.
My time with 3 Minutes to Midnight was short but sweet, and it left me craving more. If you're a fan of point-and-click adventures, you'll definitely want to check this one out. Scarecrow Studios' debut title is aiming to launch on PC (Steam), Mac, and Linux next April, and the developers are also working hard to bring it to Nintendo Switch as well as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. You can keep up to date on the project by checking out Scarecrow's official website, official Twitter account, and Steam page.