The Beard in the Mirror is a point & click adventure RPG that will transport you back in time. Keep your sword in its sheath, though, because you aren’t headed into a medieval fantasy realm. Instead, you will travel the awkward teenage years of gaming: the 90's.
I wasn’t expecting a serious game when I started The Beard in the Mirror. I anticipated a game selling itself on its silliness in a tongue-in-cheek parody of the classic RPG genre. The opening scene appeared to confirm my suspicion. The pointer icon was a red, disembodied beard. Furthermore, the story began with the trope of all tropes: the main character “dreaming” of a mysterious woman who hints at his future greatness and jumpstarts his initial quest. However, after a few minutes of playing, I got sucked into the story and forgot it was “supposed” to be a joke. I realized The Beard in the Mirror is not a parody. Rather, it captures the spirit of its classic predecessors in a way few modern games manage.
If pixel graphics have a date, this game falls in the grey area between 1988 and 1990. Despite limitations on shading, the art conveys surprising depth.
Although this game is an old school choose-your-own-adventure they developers didn’t go full retro. Players don’t have to type commands as movement and actions are managed via mouse or keystroke.
Players unfamiliar with this genre may struggle with the puzzles in this game. However, players seasoned in point & click adventures may find themselves in such familiar territory, they breeze through the puzzles without stopping.
I grew up with similar games, so from the first challenge, I knew what to do. Games that are too easy are tedious, but this was not true of The Beard in the Mirror. Instead of being bored, I enjoyed puzzles that were both new, and yet familiar. Playing was like sinking into the warm, fuzzy blanket of nostalgia without being forced to replay the same game I’ve already beaten a dozen times.
Many games try to reclaim the magic of classic titles, but either fail as a sad echo of what once was, or exploit the genre with over-the-top fan service and inside jokes. The worst is when a publisher attempts to capitalize on an existing fan-base by rebooting a beloved franchise without ever understanding what made the game meaningful to its players.
In my opinion as a die-hard, old-school, pitch-fork-ready RPG adventure nerd, the developers of The Beard in the Mirror do not fall in any of the above categories. They understand it’s not the graphics, music, or even the puzzles that makes a game great, it’s the story.
The Beard in the Mirror plays on familiar themes and winks at genre-tropes, but the story stands on its own. The main character is the classic fish-out-of-water in a strange world, but otherwise, he isn’t special. There are no prophecies about him, he isn’t daring or unusually gifted, and he doesn’t discover a latent talent that sets him above the others in this world. His standout trait is his kindness.
As he progresses on his adventure he, of course, meets the beautiful girl, but she isn’t a princess in distress, disguise, or under a curse. In fact, she isn’t a princess. She’s the daughter of a fisherman. Although not ungifted, her defining features are her loyalty and trusting nature.
I didn’t root for them because they were shining, impeccable heroes, but because they were decent, likable people.
Players stuck on a puzzle can ask for hints by directly tweeting the user @beardhints for a spoiler-free hint.
Providing hints to players is a great idea. Walkthroughs almost always give the player more information than they need to solve the problem. I approve of having a controlled avenue for accessing hints as forums are spoiler minefields. That said, it isn’t good practice to require players to go through Twitter for help. Not everyone players have a Twitter account, and may not want to sign up for one. Also, players may not want to make public that they can’t solve a puzzle. Twitter users can only send private messages to users following them, and anyone can see public tweets. To get a question answered requires posting a tweet anyone can see. Lastly, although the response time from @beardhints was impressive, it isn’t as efficient as an in-game hint system, and could prove troublesome for players in a different time zone.
Like most point & click games the pointer highlights when mousing over hot spots. A missing feature in this game is a “view all points of interaction” function which allows the user to highlight everything on screen that can be touched. Unless I am playing a seek and find game, I don’t want to spend a lot of time searching the screen for something to click.
Another issue is the game is locked in windowed mode. The developers provided a fix on the support forums, but it is not a manageable fix for a non-tech-savvy user. I prefer a game to default to fullscreen to eliminate distractions and accidental off-screen clicks.
What I want most is more content. The play-through was too short, and the map did not provide enough options for exploration. Side-quests in the game ended up being required-quests to complete the main objective. With so much to love, it is a shame for it to end so soon.
I fell in love with The Beard in the Mirror. As an homage to a much-loved genre, it succeeds stupendously. Due to a few key choice points in the game, it has replayability for those who want to see how the storyline can fork. Its main weakness is its shortness. Although the story is complete and not nrushed, it leaves a lot of untapped potential. That said, if DLC or a sequel came out, I’d be one of the first to buy.