There’s no shortage of amazing games so far this year, but my personal favorite is an underdog: Perfect Tides, a ’90s-esque point-and-click adventure about growing up as a teen on a sleepy island resort town in the early 2000s, finding an escape from real-life feelings of loneliness and loss in discussion forums and late-night AIM chats.
The first game from Meredith Gran, creator of the decade-long comic series Octopus Pie, it approaches challenging subjects with the confidence of someone who created narrative comics every week for ten years. I can’t think of another comics artist who has dived into game design like this, but it pays off with uniquely charming pixel art and animation, colorful writing, and a story that genuinely moved me by the end. It navigates complex feelings about family, old friends, and new loves, while also being genuinely funny.
Let’s put it this way: I’ve been playing videogames for the last 35 years, but Perfect Tides is the first time I felt compelled to write a walkthrough (spoilers!) and actively participate in forums to help people finish it.
This is a long way of saying that you should play Perfect Tides on Steam or Itch, and then go back the Kickstarter for its sequel, Perfect Tides: Station to Station, which has only six days to go and still needs another $20,000 to cross the finish line. (Update: It hit the goal!)
But you don’t have to take my word for it! Kotaku said the original game was “one of the year’s best,” the “kind of game you don’t even see coming, yet turns out to be incredible” and “perfectly captures the intensity and struggle of adolescence.” AV Club called it a “harrowing, funny, beautiful, horrifying, and ultimately reassuring work of art.” Polygon summed it up as “devastatingly honest.” My favorite review was from Buried Treasure’s John Walker, who wrote, “It is the most extraordinary exploration of what it is to be a teenager, told with such heart, such truth.”
If you’ve already played Perfect Tides, I want to mention two key moments that are so wonderful, and yet so easy to miss in your first playthrough, they’re worth replaying it for. THESE ARE SPOILERS!
First, if you didn’t manage to patch things up with Lily, you missed a long sequence with her in the final season of the game. (To get the full experience of that sequence, you’ll need to find a specific MP3 and put into the game directory when prompted: a remarkable breaking-the-fourth-wall sidestep around copyright licensing that I’ve never seen in a game before.)
Second, there are two major endings. If it feels anticlimactic, you likely didn’t resolve your conflicts with Lily, Simon, and your family. There are 95 possible points, but you don’t need them all to get the best ending. Feel free to use my 100% completion guide for help getting there.
Perfect Tides isn’t perfect. Like any classic point-and-click adventure, there are some clunky bits here and there, and you’ll likely need the occasional hint or glance at a playthrough to finish. But it’s so worth it.