A Trufflepig is a type of pig that sniffs through mud and find truffles. The Magnificent Trufflepigs is a grandiose name for a very sedate interactive drama that doesn’t quite reach truffle levels of richness.
The debut game from Thunkd, The Magnificent Trufflepigs is an interactive drama about metal detecting in the English Countryside.
Story starts with Beth asking her friends for help finding a long lost earring on a farm, with none available but the “bad for her” long lost friend Adam.
Beth found a fancy ear ring there when she was a kid. It was one of those pivotal character moments, getting her name in the paper and making money from selling it. Now, Beth is in the middle of life changes. Taking over the family company that employs half the village, getting married. She wants a moment of recursion to her simpler youth.
And so they start a week of searching the farm.
The player character is Adam. You have one week to find this earring, before the farm gets sold and demolished.
It’s a very straightforward game. You’ll be given a metal detector, placed in a very aesthetically pleasing version of the English countryside and left to your own devices.
It is a lovely space to inhabit. As summery a day as can be imagined, blue skies, soft tones and a safe, Arcadian atmosphere.
A basic proximity detector at the top of the screen tells you when you’re closer to a find. Then you simply follow the prompts to dig it up. Mechanically, that’s sort of it? There’s also a few objects to look at in the wider world like Castles or Hot Air Balloons that drift lazily across the sky box, but they all have the same effect.
Finding something and taking a picture has Adam comment on it. That gets more dialogue from Beth in either text form, or in a voice acted conversation. These are the real meat of the game, with dialogue options for Adam’s responses and more story from Beth. The finding of each object is a vehicle for getting back to the story, which is sort of the core problem with the game.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs stops for dialogue. Technically you can still move around. But you can’t detect anything and in fact set down your tools and then have to walk back for them. So there’s no incentive to do anything other than just stop and listen. Especially as detecting itself forces Adam to move at a snails pace.
Which means if you’re enjoying the mechanics of exploring the world, the story of the game is effectively holding you back. It doesn’t help that there’s a total of 50 treasures to find, and that the game is split up into five days. During this, you’re trying to find everything, broken up by a cutscene in the middle of each day when your battery runs out.
On top of that, each day you get a little objective like someone wanting to know if you find her bangle. You’re encouraged to get back to it as soon as possible which makes little frictions like repetitive tooltips on each find frustrating. You get the “it’s underground” and “dig it up” instructions each and every time you find anything.
These mechanics are by no means a deal breaker. I personally really enjoy the methodical aspect of plodding through the field and uncovering everything. But there’s just enough friction and pull back towards the overarching story that it never feels fully confident that the player would be entertained by the gameplay.
So if the mechanics of the Metal Detecting portion of The Magnificent Trufflepigs leave something to be desired, what about the more directly narrative focussed elements?
Honestly, they grew on me a lot.
There’s some minor quibbles. The subtitles are great, but they lurch along automatically with the voice acting, with little player control. But otherwise there’s very little actually wrong with them.
The game is heavily reliant on the voice acting, as you’ll never see any of the characters in the game. Half the game is spent on a walkie talkie listening to the nice sound design, where the radio chatter is crisp. Even when you’re not there’s lots of countryside sounds of rustling fields, animals and a tone perfect atmosphere.
But the actual dialogue is the main draw. Luci Fish as Beth does most of the heavy lifting. She has to make the player care about a character who has a lot going on, and imbue her dialogue with a lot of earnestness. The fact that I was able to empathise with Beth’s feelings in spite of what she was actually saying is a great achievement. Comparatively, Arthur Darvill as Adam has to deal with the perennial risk of the player choosing the tone of his optional responses, yet as the game progresses, his character clearly comes across consistently and so it never feels like you’re making a jarring choice.
It’s all helped by a script that features the smallest of small town Britain conflicts, with all the rumours and pointless conflicts and family drama that entails.
There are even plentiful Jaffa Cake mentions and a host of delightfully English euphemisms in the voice acting which really help solidify the sense of place. It’s all very nice.
But as the game goes on, you start to pull at the threads of Beth’s story. See what’s really going on with her life.
The game ends up being way more interesting when this happens! Initially I was concerned by how trite things were feeling, how nothing meaningful in the story seemed to actually be being addressed, but the team slowly unveil the wider scope. I have reservations about the ending not necessarily taking things as far as it could have, but it felt true to the characters.
I wasn’t particularly surprised by the developments of the story, which in this case I mean as a compliment. The writing team set things up well enough that every development felt natural. It’s just that the story never felt particularly attached to the mechanics of the game.
If you tell me the BBC were commissioning a mini series of this story for Sunday night viewing, I’d have no doubt it would be an easy conversion.
Part of the problem I think is the scope. The Magnificent Trufflepigs is a small scale story, and a small scale game, only clocking in around two hours. Though you can return for more metal detecting till you run out of treasures to find, the game doesn’t particularly reward replaying past that. It tells the story it wants to tell with those mechanics, then is done.
I enjoyed my time with Beth and Adam in spite of the issues though. The story unfolded in ways I initially didn’t expect, being a lot more introspective than first glance would suggest. I think it’s a shame the narrative doesn’t mesh more deeply with the mechanical aspect of Metal Detecting. But as a sedate, leisurely interactive drama, The Magnificent Trufflepigs does unearth some useful finds, if not gold.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs is available now on Steam