Like other Sometimes You titles such as Need A Packet and Breeder’s Homegrown, Norman’s Great Illusion is an unconventional, experimental low-cost digital download that provides a message bigger than the sum of its parts. The approach is unique even though there isn’t much gameplay to speak of.
With no tutorial or instruction of any kind, the player takes control of a grown man wearing only his underwear as he wakes from his bed. His family is already sitting at the breakfast table but the player is left to figure out what to do or where to go. Everything is inactive until the player clicks on the closet to get dressed. After donning work apparel, this Father can sit at the table and have breakfast with his one kid and wife. After a quick chat, the player clicks on the front door to leave. Doesn’t sound very exciting so far, I know.
Here starts the first of two gameplay sessions. Driving to work involves nothing more than stopping a meter in the colored area, much like the second tap of most 3-click golf games. Land outside the color and the player receives a penalty. Nail a few consecutive taps in the colored area to make it safely to work.
Once at work, the player literally has to solve basic math problems, the second portion of gameplay. Having only a few seconds to enter the answer using a calculator-type interface, the player can be promoted if enough questions are answered correctly and quickly. Answer wrong and the player can be reprimanded. Once a handful of math problems are solved, it is back to the stop-the-meter car driving segment to get back home, a talk with the family at dinner, then click on the bed to go to sleep. Repeat this exact same list of events until the game gives you one of the multiple endings, which usually takes about 10 minutes.
Just like Need A Packet’s routine gameplay of prepping for work, traveling to work, doing work, then making the trip home, Norman’s Great Illusion is following in these exact footsteps and something most people of the working class experience every day in their real lives. Occasionally, the player will be given a choice that will ultimately lead to an outcome. These decisions are black and white and provide a sense of replayability. There is an Achievement/Trophy for earning most of these ending so there is incentive for Xbox One, PS4, and Vita players. I don’t want to provide examples of these decisions as I don’t want to spoil it but just know some are difficult to make, like the decisions presented to the player throughout the Banner Saga games. An answer might not always lead to an obvious outcome.
Is Norman’s Great Illusion a fun game? No, absolutely not. You literally stop a meter by tapping a button then do basic math problems with an interface that is a little to touchy – this is not fun by any means. However, this doesn’t necessarily make this $5 download a bad game. It is just different. Putting the focus on repetition and an emphasis on narrative with multiple endings, this is an experimental title that not everyone will understand or appreciate. Players looking for small, indie titles that provide an entirely different type of experience and view games like a weird piece of art should look forward to this unconventional game. Since this is not a typical game by any means, it shouldn’t be viewed as such. It is best to go in blind with an open mind.
Also available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Playstation Vita.