One of my fondest memories of young adulthood is the freedom I felt after getting my first job. Every other Wednesday, after cashing in my paycheck, I would go to the local Safeway, purchase whatever issues of Mad were on display, and eat Chinese food while reading comics in the sad little dining area outside the deli. It was there while absorbing the wildly diverse art styles of those comic pages that I first came to enjoy the caricature of comic book art, embracing the unconventional aesthetics that began to challenge my idea of what a person or setting “should” look like in their cartoon form. This year, my honorable mention goes to Unforeseen Incidents, a game that exemplifies the funky charm of the panels and strips I remember so warmly.
Unforeseen Incidents is appealing for more reasons than just its visuals: the soundtrack has the dreamy mellowness of a Angelo Badalamenti composition, and the lead character, handyman Harper Pendrell, has an approachable likeability that carries the game’s sense of humor well. But in terms of how it looks, it’s almost hard to believe that a graphic novel style may not have been what the developers were even going for. The sole illustrator of Unforeseen Incidents, lead artist Matthias Nikutta, cites prolific concept artist Ian McQue and short film animator Robert Valley (as well as the time constraints on the game’s development) as the primary source of inspiration. The end result is warm, mirroring the comfortable affability of the game’s protagonist, his beady eyes, spindly legs and angular jaw straddling that strange line between ugly and adorable, while the jagged inky sketches of each chapters’ 15 screens and their spare but smartly used sunset palette evoke the sad but sweet decay of 1970s Disney films like The Aristocats or Robin Hood.
I struggled with the pacing of Unforeseen Incidents; format-wise it’s a bit outdated, relying on the conventions of point and click puzzle mystery games of a bygone era. But its central premise of a government conspiracy at the heart of a recent plague outbreak holds enough promise to keep the game moving, even during the sluggish moments spent using trial and error on everything in the player inventory. Ultimately, I can’t get over how at home it would feel in the pages of my old favorite magazine, rejecting conventional beauty and yet irresistibly embracing aesthetic. For that, Unforeseen Incidents is my honorable mention of 2018.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.