For those of you outside of the UK that are unaware, the National Health Service is on its ass. Nurses are underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated by the powers that be. There aren’t enough skilled physicians to populate the hospitals, and we have a government hell-bent on privatizing healthcare.
All in all, it’s a pretty tough time to be in the business of fixing people, and while I’m pinpointing the issues of one small pocket of the world, the role of a doctor is a pretty unenviable one once you set the pretty sizable pay packet to one side.
The workload is immense, the hurdles you have to clear just to become an intern are ginormous, and even if you do your job perfectly, people die.
This is something that Fall of Porcupine aims to showcase, albeit through a much more wholesome and colorful lens. The subject may be bleak, but it’s nothing that a small town populated by cute anthropomorphized critters can’t fix.
It’s a game that showcases the harsh reality of being a physician in modern medicine, a game that highlights the mental health struggles that come part and parcel with these roles, and the impossible decisions that these highly trained individuals must make every day.
However, it’s also a game that drops you into a quaint little town, allows you to get to know a cast of colorful characters, and teaches us that it’s okay to stop and smell the roses every once in a while.
This is ultimately to the detriment of the game, as the pacing made this one an absolute slog to push through. However, to say that this game was a waste of time would also be deeply unfair. Allow me to offer some clarity. Here is Indie Game Culture’s Fall of Porcupine review, conducted on PS5.
Slow Down, Stay a While
We should begin with the narrative within Fall of Porcupine, because, aside from the occasional mini-game, it’s the only thing that keeps the player pushing forward. In this game, you play as a Pidgeon called Finley, who is a new medical Intern at St Ursula’s Hospital in the sleepy town of Porcupine.
The game opens up with a rather surreal dream sequence, but after that, the title proceeds to tell a hospital-based story filled with the thrills and spills that come with matters of life and death.
However, I have to say that this title fails to tell it in a new and exciting way. It’s Scrubs without the comedy, Grey’s Anatomy without the drama, or House without Hugh Laurie.
During each day, players will have their daily rounds to complete, and will have to attend to their patients. Then either before or after their shift, they will be able to explore Porcupine, meet up with friends, and find little secrets dotted around the town.
However, the former only serves to get in the way of the latter, which acts as the only engaging part of the game. The hospital sequences are essentially comprised of boring busywork, dealing with a bunch of patients that are, as a collective, pretty uninteresting.
The only exception was Irma, who regaled me with truly touching stories, and even though what would happen to her, in the end, was about as subtly hidden as a monster truck parked in a Supermarket car park, it still got me a little.
She reminded me of Mrs. Tanner in the earlier episodes of Scrubs, but sadly, the writing wasn’t quite on par with Matt Tarses on this occasion.
The real joy in Fall of Porcupine comes when off the wards and exploring, as you get to know the townsfolk and your work colleagues when they’re off the clock. I never had a huge connection with Finley’s best pals, Mia, Karl, and Pina. However, in line with this game’s, ‘It’s the little things’ tone, the more subtle characters sunk their hooks in deep.
Engaging with Frauke and his ‘Stream of Consciousness’ mantra was genuinely soothing, and I was always looking out for the wholesome homeless fella who watches out for you in turn. However, despite these little pockets of loveliness, the main issue with the story, and the format of the game in general is that these moments are too few and far between.
The game’s story is paced horribly, and while I can accept that this is intentional to some extent, as the game explicitly wants you to relax, it makes for a pretty dull experience. The main problem is the lack of player interaction and stimulation.
The player has to walk everywhere, the conversations you have with characters along the way tend to be pretty mundane and superfluous, and the kicker of it all is, when you get to your destination, there usually isn’t something worthwhile waiting for you there either.
In short, Fall of Porcupine has a cozy story with some bright spots, but it’s an incredibly slow and bloated experience that could have been boiled down to its strongest parts for a much richer experience.
The Changing of the Leaves
We then move on to the overall presentation of Fall of Porcupine, which I can be much more positive about. The game goes with a 2D Side-scrolling format, and an art style that I can only describe as a sticker book collection brought to life.
From a visual perspective, it’s hard to find fault with how the game acclimatizes you to the town of Porcupine. The town is gorgeous, brought to life with an earthy autumn color palette and a cast of anthropomorphic characters, and what’s equally impressive is that the town feels relatable.
It presents life in a small town in a very believable way, where everyone knows everyone, and everybody knows every area of the place, like the back of your hand. It’s clear that the developers really took their time to ensure that any screenshot of this game would immediately entice the cozy gaming community.
However, it’s this style of substance approach that is making it harder and harder to invest wisely in wholesome games, with this game being a prime example.
While the game is visually very impressive, the sound design leaves a lot to be desired. It’s clear that some effort was put in here to craft a selection of relaxing and touching melodies to evoke certain emotions, and there is also some great implementation of ambient noise throughout too.
However, it’s the same old story. Pockets of loveliness in an otherwise lifeless and inconsistent experience. The sound design is poorly mixed, ranging from far too quiet, to completely silent for huge portions of the game, walking from A to B.
Then, as you near the end of the game, the sound quality really plummets with music cutting in and out, really distracting from the emotive moments, which are struggling to stick the landing as it is.
Overall, the game is a real looker, but not to the point that the player will be so enamored with the setting that they can turn a blind eye to all the other flaws, which you will be all too acutely aware of.
Who Prescribed Sedatives?
We now move on to the gameplay or lack thereof. Fall of Porcupine, as mentioned, is propped up by its narrative and visual display, which inadvertently means that gameplay takes a backseat.
Now, this can be fine in walking simulator games such as this. Games like Gone Home or Tacoma literally see the player walk around, picking up objects and exploring the environment as they go, and nothing else.
It’s possible to make this very engaging indeed. However, Fall of Porcupine is just about the least engaging game I have played in some time, to the point that I really dragged my heels on this review because this game kept making me drowsy.
This can be a common reaction to text-based games, especially if you play games as late in the day as I do, but I’m someone that managed to engage with Measurehead in Disco Elysium without my head exploding, so I’m weathered when it comes to games of this format.
The problem is that the game offers a handful of fun minigames to break up the story and add a little pageantry, but the lulls in between are like chasms. Aside from being able to jump and float in the air and engage with the occasional point of interest on your travels, there is nothing the player can do.
You walk where you are told to go, and when you get there, you are usually ‘rewarded’ with a Rune Factory adjacent minigame, which often doesn’t work as intended.
The minigames are naturally the highlight of Fall of Porcupine’s gameplay, as that’s all there really is. However, even though they are fun, cheesy replicas of common gaming tropes, none work as intended. On one hand, you have the medical minigames that are completely arbitrary, as while you get graded on performance, your performance never affects the story or your interactions with others.
Then on the flip side, you have more silly mini-games like a Pokemon-style bar fight, or a Cooking Mama adjacent cooking segment, but even these fall flat as the inputs don’t always correlate with what’s on screen.
At the danger of repeating myself again, it’s style over substance. Perhaps if these mini-games were more refined, more frequent, and actually mattered in the long run, I could muster up a modicum of praise for the gameplay here, but as it stands, it’s bland, boring, and borderline broken.
Then before we wrap things up, I also need to discuss how the game is lacking some basics that I feel need to be present in the modern era of gaming.
Firstly, the game has no manual save feature, no chapter selection function, very inconsistent checkpointing, and no save stating on PS5, making it very hard to pop in and out of this game without losing progress.
Then you have issues regarding the achievements in this game, which require you to follow branching paths, and without a save function, this means playing this long-winded game all the way through just to do an alternate minigame.
This is fine to an extent, as it at least encourages replayability. However, there are some events that are genuinely just broken. For example, I was building a comic book story with one of the kids that hangs at the skatepark, and for some unknown reason, the dialogue just stopped; they walked away, and I was unable to complete that arc.
This trend of broken dialogue trees, segments where you can’t access items or interactive points of interest, and even the occasional softlock here and there only add to the already burdensome task of playing this game from start to end.
However, I doubt the majority of players who take this one on will stick around long enough to even come to loathe these shortcomings.
If you are in the same boat as me, and are looking for something a little more engaging to cleanse the palette after this game which flatters to deceive, then you might want to look at these super text-based adventures:
- Beacon Pines
- A Night in the Woods
- Kentucky Route Zero
The Verdict: 5/10
All in all, Fall of Porcupine is a cute and cozy game that epitomizes the growing trend in the wholesome game scene of style over substance.
Lure players in with cute visuals and a promise of a touching narrative, and then pad the rest out. Fall of Porcupine does have some lovely moments, some emotional scenes, and generally succeeds in delivering a message that we can only do our best, so we need to give ourselves a break.
However, as a critic, I need to grade this as a game, and as a gaming experience, it’s about as dull and threadbare as it gets.
Aside from a few lively minigames, the game is paced so poorly that you’ll feel like you are sitting in on a medical school lecture; the lulls in between the ‘action‘ are inexplicably long and intolerable, and while the visuals are superb, the iffy sound quality ensures that even this cannot be truly appreciated.
The game also has a slew of performance issues, a few notable absences in terms of basic functionality, and while this is a personal gripe, the game fails to deliver a more cutting and spiky message about the state of healthcare at the moment, which would have maybe made for a more engaging core plot, rather than relying on predictable tropes.
The Fall of Porcupine was more devastating than the developers might have envisioned. It has fallen, and it won’t be getting up anytime soon.
- Some fun and varied mini-games
- A beautiful art-style
- A few standout story beats
- Great accessibility options
- Intolerably slow pacing
- A lack of stimulus from minute to minute
- Sound quality and performance issues
Question: Who is the Main Character in Fall of Porcupine?
Answer: You play Finley, a medical intern just beginning his journey in medicine at St Ursula’s Hospital in Porcupine. Answer: If players really hustle and engage with only the necessary aspects of the game, you could blast through the core content in about 4-5 hours.
Question: How Long is Fall of Porcupine?
Answer: If players really hustle and engage with only the necessary aspects of the game, you could blast through the core content in about 4-5 hours. However, because the game encourages players to explore and drink in the setting, players, on average, will probably take about 7-10 hours to complete this one.
Question: Should You Hang Out with Mia or Karl?
Answer: Honestly, it doesn’t really matter because it only means that you will get a different mini-game, so spend time with who you like best. In my case, it was Mia.
Question: What Platforms Can I Play Fall of Porcupine On?
Answer: Fall of Porcupine is available on all major modern platforms, including PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Fall of Porcupine Review: Play Log
Callum played and beat this game in about 7-8 hours. He probably would have ended up wrapping up the trophies for the platinum, but because of glitches, and no chapter selection functionality, he doesn’t see himself ever returning to the town of Porcupine again