REVIEW: ‘Milkmaid of the Milky Way’ (Switch)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Milkmaid of the Milky Way, showing Ruth and her cow underneath an alien ship.

If you’ve ever daydreamed about an early 20th century Norwegian milkmaid getting abducted by aliens, then Milkmaid of the Milky Way is definitely the game for you. However, if this bizarrely specific scenario is something you’ve never imagined before, the downright strangeness of the plot might intrigue you enough to pick it up, which is exactly what happened to me. Originally released on Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android in 2017, publisher and developer Machineboy recently ported the point-and-click adventure game to Nintendo Switch on August 22. While the music, atmosphere, and pixelated art style of Milkmaid of the Milky Way is absolutely stunning, the tiring rhyming dialogue, tedious mechanics, and obtuse puzzles result in an overwhelmingly average experience.

Milkmaid of the Milky Way starts off as many quaint, farm-centered games often do – your character, Ruth, unexpectedly lost her parents some years before and was given responsibility of the family property, much to her dismay. Unfortunately for Ruth, in addition to reluctantly taking care of dairy cows, something seems to be a little off with the farm. She wakes one morning to find that all her tools are missing, scattered throughout the land without any explanation. While taking her cows out to pasture after finally finding her equipment, she watches in horror as an enormous alien ship abducts her animals. Ruth sneaks on board to save her cows and figure out what exactly is happening to her farm.

Although the initial plot is intriguing, the uniqueness of the game begins to wear off as the story continues. It eventually became a little too ridiculous, so much so that I started to roll my eyes whenever I encountered a new plot point, especially because most information is revealed through rhyming dialogue. At first, much like the peculiar scenario of a milkmaid having her cows abducted by aliens, I found the rhyming dialogue charming; however, the quality of rhymes began to decline the longer I played.

Toward the end of the game, the rhymes felt forced or sloppily put together, like the developers had pigeonholed themselves into the concept and were just trying to get through to the end. The poor execution of important story-related dialogue made it difficult to stay engaged with the increasingly strange plot. It eventually felt like a chore to learn about what I was supposed to be doing.

Image of Ruth standing underneath a tree with rhyming dialogue describing its fruit.

In addition to feeling bogged down by the dialogue, the point-and-click mechanics felt incredibly awkward, which did not make immersion any easier. Touchscreen controls, an option that would have made sense for a point-and-click game that had already been released on iOS and Android, were completely unavailable. Instead, you navigate exclusively through the Switch’s analog sticks, which works fine in theory, except that many of the items you need to click on to interact with the world are pretty small. I often found myself spending frustratingly long periods of time trying to figure out what I needed to click on or do next, only to discover that all I had to do was move my cursor slightly to the left by a mere couple of pixels to pick up a new item.

The controls weren’t the only issue I had in terms of finding story items or progressing through the plot – the puzzles in Milkmaid of the Milky Way are so obtuse that most of my gameplay was spent clicking on random things in the background and dragging items around to see if they did anything. Many times, the solution to a puzzle was combining seemingly random elements to create some sort of strange Rube Goldberg machine that didn’t seem to have any basis in logical thought.

When the answer didn’t take too long or too much random experimentation to figure out, the challenge was fun and rewarding, but that, unfortunately, was not my experience throughout most of my playthrough. Additionally, Ruth walks so slowly and in such a fragmented way due to the nature of the point-and-click genre that puzzles with a lot of backtracking – which were most of them – became increasingly frustrating just because of travel time.

Of course, not everything in the game was exasperating. The pixelated art style is amongst the most gorgeous indie visuals I have seen in a long time, especially in Norway before Ruth and the cows get snatched up by aliens. I constantly found myself enthralled by the environments I encountered and I legitimately enjoyed progressing through the game when it involved unlocking new spaces to explore, simply because of the appealing art style.

Frequently throughout the game, I found myself comparing the pixelated landscapes or quirky character designs to the style of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films. Although Milkmaid of the Milky Way is entirely pixelated, it manages to capture the same magnificence of nature as films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away with much less detail, a feat that I found extremely impressive.

Another element of Milkmaid of the Milky Way that I found myself comparing to Studio Ghibli films, especially Castle in the Sky, was the musical arrangements. Much of Milkmaid of the Milky Way had a simple soundtrack, often just soft, melodic piano pieces. However, each piece hit just right the note and I often thought about just leaving the game on in the background while doing other activities because of just how soothing it was. 

Each piece seamlessly worked its way into the background as well, never feeling too overbearing or too absent. Other than the beginning of the game when you leave the farm to explore the valley and the music abruptly changes from an upbeat farm tune to a much softer piano-only piece, the transitions between different songs felt incredibly smooth and never jostled me out of my immersion.

Overall, Milkmaid of the Milky Way was an interesting experience, but not one that I would necessarily recommend. Although the art was absolutely gorgeous and the music quickly worked its way up to my list of indie favorites, the gameplay itself was always just a little too frustrating to fully enjoy. Many of the puzzles simply weren’t fun and I wandered around hoping I could figure something out more than I progressed with a feeling of purpose. Altogether, Milkmaid of the Milky Way is a game that I think is much more pleasing to look at and listen to than to sit down and actually play and I would recommend the soundtrack on Spotify more than I would the game itself.

Milkmaid of the Milky Way
  • 4/10
    Rating - 4/10
4/10

TL; DR

Milkmaid of the Milky Way was an interesting experience, but not one that I would necessarily recommend