‘My Memory of Us’: A fast-paced, stylish adventure with a storyline some might find off-putting
By CHRISTOPHER BYRD | Special to The Washington Post | Published: October 25, 2018
Do you like the voice of the noted actor Patrick Stewart? Are you a fan of fairy tales starring plucky children? If you answer yes to either of these questions, then the stylishly animated adventure game “My Memory of Us” might be worth a look. If, however, you are troubled by the Disneyfication of historical tragedies then you’ll probably be put off by it, regardless of its conspicuously good intentions.
At the start of the game, an urban-dwelling little girl hastens along the streets until she arrives at a bookstore. Once inside, she finds an old man napping at a desk. Rousing him from slumber, she learns that the fantastical books she seeks are located up above. Leaving him to his nap, she heads up the stairs.
Ignoring the surrounding books, her eyes are drawn to a ladder, which she uses to reach the attic. On a table in the far corner of the room, she finds a book that has obviously been given pride of place. When she presents the book to the shopkeeper downstairs, the vestiges of sleep depart him.
As the old man turns the pages of the drawing-filled book, his memory is inflamed. Between the pages, he discovers half of a torn photograph. The picture in his hands bears a remarkable resemblance to the girl in front of him despite the fact that it was taken many decades ago. Spurred by the comforts of tea and two cozy chairs, the old man (voiced by Patrick Stewart) proceeds to tell the girl a story about his childhood friend in the photograph involving robots and battles, two areas of keen interest to the little girl.
As a child, the old man was a bit of a street urchin who got himself into trouble with the law. One night, in an effort to shake off the cops, he jumps off a roof and lands in a garbage can, whose lid closes tightly above him. The following morning, a little girl comes across the garbage can while searching for a stray ball and frees him. A friendship quickly forms between them as they come to rely on each others’ particular skill sets.
The mechanics of the game are pleasingly emotive. With the tap of a shoulder button on the controller, one can choose to control either the boy or the girl. Tapping one of the controller’s face buttons causes them to hold hands. With their hands linked, one can choose to have either the girl or the boy lead.
When the girl is leading, the boy can take advantage of her speed and run faster than he could on his own. Conversely, when the boy is leading, the girl is able to benefit from his thieving skills and crouch to make detection harder. The boy is smaller than the girl, so he gets into some places where she can’t. Each of the two also gains useful tools in the game. The boy acquires a light that’s essential for illuminating dark places, and the girl comes into the possession of a slingshot that can be used to target out-of-reach objects such as buttons.
After an evil king robot and his callous minions take over the children’s country, the duo must help themselves and whomever they can to survive. The city where the children live is modeled on Warsaw, Poland. The robots are proxies for the Nazis and in the charcoal gray atmosphere of the game, the people forced to wear bright red clothing are stand-ins for Jews.
Over the course of their adventure, the children help separated lovers exchange tokens of affection, acquire medicine for orphans, disseminate resistance propaganda and engage in other acts of sabotage and subterfuge. Their journey takes them from a ghetto where the people dressed in red are corralled to a robot base, to a resistance camp, and beyond. Along the way, they can acquire “memories,” or documents that relate facts about Polish life under Nazi occupation and the real-life heroes who played a role in the struggle against fascism.
As taken as I was by the game’s lovely animation, varied puzzles and brisk pacing, I wasn’t particularly stirred by its historical moorings. I simply couldn’t square what I know about the brutality of what the Nazis did in Poland with the game’s evocation of those events. Climbing a mountain of suitcases, for instance, to retrieve a toy for a girl destined to be shuttled off by the robots didn’t move me on any meaningful level. The symbols were too obvious to push me toward reflection, which I found more troubling than anything on the screen.
To be sure, I’m not the ideal player for a game such as this, but I could potentially see how parents might use “My Memory of Us” as tool to introduce young children to one of the intractable nightmares of history.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One