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Dordogne review: don't brush off this sweet summer adventure

Flying watercolours

A young girl traps fireflies in a jar in Dordogne
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Focus Entertainment

Memory can be a fickle thing. For thirty-something Mimi, everything before her thirteenth birthday is a blank. What happened before that point is never really interrogated during Dordogne's three-hour run time, but we do know her father is a stubborn old goat who cut ties with Mimi's really quite nice grandmother Nora after a summer she spent there as a shy, sheltered twelve-year-old. It's this summer that seems to be the cork in Mimi's memory bottle, and it's also the window in which Dordogne frames its sweet, coming of age tale. As Mimi in the present comes to terms with her grandmother's recent passing, the objects she finds in Nora's now-empty summer house trigger important flashbacks to that golden summer, and maybe also the answer to Mimi's apparent amnesia. Dordogne never demands very much of you during these sequences, but it does know how to luxuriate in life's little details, and find pleasure in a more leisurely lifestyle.

Adult Mimi gets a little short shrift compared to pre-teen Mimi. Her older segments are largely confined to rooting about the confines of the house to find the next memory object, or coming across old letters hinting at events in the past. Her delightfully old brick phone will occasionally buzz with angry messages from her father Fabrice and possibly boyfriend/colleague Dom, but while you can choose to respond to these texts and get occasional messages back, the conversations never go anywhere, nor do they have any bearing on the story. They're simply there to provide a bit of extra colour - which, given the altogether more drab colour palette of the game's gorgeous watercolour visuals in these sections, is sorely needed.

She does get a single puzzle early on that involves feeding a tetchy, key-wearing cat, admittedly, but adult Mimi is largely just a vehicle to carry the player to the altogether more colourful moments in her past. It's here where the watercolour backdrops spring into life, their vibrant daubs of paint instantly infusing every scene with a sense of life and energy that simply isn't present in Mimi's sombre present. Rose-tinted glasses doesn't even begin to cover it. The contrast is, of course, deliberate. Despite a somewhat rocky start to Mimi's month-long holiday in the Dordogne (in which an angry goodbye from her dad is followed almost immediately by one of the heaviest and most heart-breaking breakfasts scenes I've ever witnessed in a video game), Mimi quickly grows to love life in this rural idyll, as well as the freedom she's afforded by her stern, but ultimately forgiving gran.

An adult woman stands in front of a country house in Dordogne
A young girl stands in front of a country house in Dordogne
The contrast between the past and present's colour palette does a wonderful job of heightening their respective moods.

As Mimi gets used to the rhythms of country living, Dordogne's chapters all have their own tale to tell about the object that's sent Mimi into a nostalgic haze. She might find an old camera, say, and remember the time her gran took her down to the river to learn how to use it. Another sees her fix a kayak by going to the local market to find supplies, a trip which introduces her to the young Renaud, first cast as a cheeky local pickpocket but whose history is intimately entwined with Nora and her recently deceased husband. As the two become fast friends, tensions come to a head with her grandmother, and the letters in Mimi's present start to make more sense.

As these gentle story beats fall into place, each chapter sees you undertake a variety of tasks that all have an extremely pleasing sense of tactility to them. These little activities are often the focal point of each chapter, and while they might not seem like momentous occasions on paper, even basic things like opening a locked door have a satisfying, methodical step by step process to them that really rinses them for all they're worth. Not only do you have to insert the key with your mouse, for example, but you'll also need rotate it in the lock, twist the latch with another hold and flick of your mouse and then push the door ajar. There's also a particularly wonderful moment where adult Mimi brews a mug of tea, and each individual step of filling the kettle with water, closing the lid, putting it on to boil, selecting your tea, scooping it out, popping it in the infuser, and finally pouring the water to boil is accompanied by ASMR-grade sound effects to really ground you in the memory. Mouse movements are, occasionally, a touch fiddly - gamepad sticks feel a smidge more natural sometimes - but they're rare wobbles in otherwise chill and relaxed moments of calm.

A camera is being rotated and assembled in Dordogne
A candle and a box of matches sit on a side table in Dordogne
A key is inserted into a door in Dordogne
A gardening scene in Dordogne
Puzzles are simple but feel wonderfully tactile on both mouse and keyboard and on a gamepad.

Each day is also capped off by Mimi filling in a new page in her holiday binder, instantly calling to mind the fabulous scrapbooking seen in Season: A Letter To The Future. Alas, Dordogne's pages are much less flexible than Scavengers' melancholy documenting, limiting you to a single photo that can't be resized or scaled, one sound recording and collectible sticker, and a poem made up of three lines conjured by words you find in and around the environment. These words are often writ large across the screen like The Wreck, and regularly double up as dialogue choices when chatting with your gran. Mimi can also find them as stray thoughts if you walk nearby, but once again, they're mainly there to provide extra colour. Saying you're lonely or that you hate this weird tasty jam and butter on your morning toast won't change the outcome of the story or anything, but they do feel keenly on point for what a stroppy twelve-year-old might say when faced with, say, having to help with gardening instead of patching up a cool boat.

A young girl and her gran chat near a riverside in Dordogne
A young girl and her grandma sit in deck chairs at night in Dordogne
A top down screenshot of a suitcase and a chest of drawers in Dordogne
Talk about emotional baggage.

For a game whose message is ultimately about appreciating the tiny details in life, Dordogne is only partially successful. Its soothing puzzles nail this philosophy to a tee, but the restrictions it places around its binder feel like a missed opportunity. Each chapter only lets you take a maximum of ten photos on your polaroid camera, for example, but when you can only use during set scenes and panoramic viewpoints, you'd be hard pushed to find ten unique things to capture in the first place. The same goes for its recorder, which you can only whip out in very limited circumstances. You can, at least create multiple pages in your binder per chapter, but there's no real incentive to do so when the limits on your expression are so harsh and fussy.

It runs counter to the game's other main theme, which is Mimi finding her feet in a new environment after the strict upbringing of her grumpy parents. She flourishes under Nora, whose gentle nudges toward independence and self sufficiency see Mimi transform from moody pre-teen into a truly joyful soul who revels in probably the last lazy summer of her childhood. And it's this newfound responsibility and sense of duty to make things right between Renaud and her gran that brings the game to its dramatic conclusion. Admittedly, I found the central conflict between them involving a lost (or possibly stolen) watch to be a little underpowered when all was said and done, but there's still plenty of warm fuzziness to be found in its eventual sense of closure.

A scrapbook page from your binder in Dordogne
The scrapbooking side of Dordogne is a little undercooked, but hey, twelve-year-old Mimi can be quite the surprising poet at times!

As I mentioned at the start, Dordogne is not a taxing game, and it won't challenge you or make you think differently about the world around you. But it is a very sweet and tender coming of age tale that's the perfect little mini-break for such a busy time of year, and I enjoyed the three hours I spent gawping at its truly gorgeous watercolour scenery. It's well worth a pop on Game Pass if you have it, but even if you don't, you'll feel much better about yourself at the end of it than spending the same amount of money on the latest Marvel dross at the cinema - and it will no doubt stick longer in the memory, too.

This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher Focus Entertainment.

Find out how we conduct our reviews by reading our review policy.

About the Author
Katharine Castle avatar

Katharine Castle


Katharine is RPS' editor-in-chief, which means she's now to blame for all this. After joining the team in 2017, she spent four years in the RPS hardware mines. Now she leads the RPS editorial team and plays pretty much anything she can get her hands on. She's very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests, but also loves strategy and turn-based tactics games and will never say no to a good Metroidvania.

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