Twin Mirror, the latest game from Life is Strange developer Dontnod, is a dark psychological thriller set in a podunk mining town. Like many a small town, the best thing about the fictional Basswood, West Virginia is the grungy old Pac-Man machine in the back of the local dive bar.
I wasn’t expecting the Pac-Man machine — which first shows up as a memory in protagonist Sam Higgs’ “Mind Palace,” — to be an actual playable video game. I figured it was just some nostalgic set dressing displaying a video loop of Pac-Man’s attract mode. Perhaps it was a nod to Dontnod’s partner, Bandai Namco Entertainment, owner of Pac-Man, his wife, and his child.
Sam ends up in the bar attempting to piece together a bar fight which occured the previous evening. During the investigation sequence, I approached the machine and was prompted, to my surprise and delight, to play the smoke-stained, age-faded classic.
The screen zooms in on the cabinet’s display, and boom, Sam Higgs is playing Pac-Man instead of trying to figure out why he woke up in a hotel room an hour earlier with his shirt soaked in someone else’s blood. That’s just the sort of small-town intrigue games like Pac-Man were designed to take our mind off of. Within moments I had almost completely forgotten about the guy I’d later find dead on the floor of the local newspaper’s office…an office with telling decorations on the wall.
Twin Mirror is not a game about Pac-Man. It’s about reporter Sam Higgs returning to Basswood after years of self-exile to deal with the death of a good friend. Years ago Higgs wrote an expose about the town’s mine, leading to many of the locals blaming him for the mine’s closure and the loss of their livelihood. It’s a tense backdrop for a murder mystery that only Higgs, with his keen analytical mind and his helpful imaginary friend, The Double, can possibly solve. Just thinking about the drama makes me want to go play a mindless arcade game.
I would credit Dotnod’s keen attention to detail for the Pac-Man inclusion, but I’m pretty sure Bandai Namco played a big part. Plus, as competent as the developers are, they think this thing is a buttermilk biscuit:
Either way, the Pac-Man machine is a great touch. There’s something about playing an arcade machine in a first-person, slightly angled view that gets my nostalgia gland going something fierce. Eventually I’ll solve the great mystery of Twin Mirror. For now, wakka wakka.