The following contains spoilers for Untitled Goose Game.
Untitled Goose Game, the new Switch and PC/Mac title from the developers at House House, is a good environmental puzzle game about a bad goose. You play as the goose, and your mission is to terrorize a small village by—for lack of a better term—being a huge asshole. You throw their clothes into a fountain when they’re not looking, you use the dedicated honk button to scare them into dropping and breaking glassware, and you orchestrate miniature disasters that cause very minor property damage—all by just doing the things that a particularly cruel goose would do. To be fair, though, the vast majority of the people you encounter in the game are no better than the goose, with most of them rudely shoving you away even when you’re not doing anything mischievous. Really, they’re all jerks and they deserve to have their lives briefly thrown into disarray.
That’s how things stand for most of Untitled Goose Game’s relatively brief runtime, at least up until its penultimate level (the game is sort of an open world, but you get specific puzzle-like tasks to complete in each area). After going through a garden and some yards, the goose arrives at a small pub with an outdoor seating area. The first task here is to get past a particularly overzealous anti-goose guard, and the game gives you a hint on how to do this by adopting an iconic piece of equipment from the stealth genre: a cardboard box. Whether it’s an intentional nod to Metal Gear Solid or not, the game is clearly indicating that—while it may have been a puzzle game before—this is now a sneaking mission.
Stealth was an important component of the previous levels, but most of them were big enough that you could run away from the townsfolk or stash the items you were trying to steal far enough away from them without getting caught. The pub, though, is a much more confined space with a lot more people to keep track of—any one of whom may notice that something is out of place and disrupt your attempt to, say, set a little table by stealing a plate, a knife, a fork, a pepper grinder, and a candle (one of the actual tasks in the area). To make this easier, Untitled Goose Game even picks up another hallmark of the stealth genre by having crawlspaces that go under the pub’s patio and instantly confound any pursuers, much like an air vent would in a traditional stealth game.
It uses a visual language that players may already be familiar with from outside of Untitled Goose Game in order to show them how to adapt the goose skills they’ve already developed for a slightly more difficult challenge. It’s a very clever sequence, but Untitled Goose Game doesn’t stop there. For as well-designed as the pub is, everything after that is a wonderful twist on the rules that Untitled Goose Game has established up until that point. After the pub, the goose goes to a model village that is a miniature replica of the very town you’re in, and some of the tiny figurines and recognizable landmarks from earlier in the game can be grabbed and ripped apart.
There are no guards or challenges here, but the game is doing two more smart things. The first is that it’s giving the player a chance to let loose and fuck up the town in a very direct way as a cathartic reward for having done well enough to reach the final area. The second is that it’s reminding the player of the path they took to get here, which is important for the game’s final challenge: retrieve a golden bell from the model village and carry it all the way back to where you started the game. That means going backward through each of the previous areas, keeping in mind how you were able to do it the first time and thinking quickly to figure out how to get past new obstacles that have been placed, all with the added challenge of the bell in your beak. If you move your neck too much or use that wonderful honk button, the bell will ring and summon any nearby townsfolk—all of whom are very invested in getting their bell back.
Here, the entirety of Untitled Goose Game reveals itself to be a brilliant piece of game design. Every single thing you’ve done up until grabbing the bell has been a lesson, and you have to keep all of it in mind in order to make your way back through the village. Each person presents a new challenge that is informed by their original challenge, whether it’s as straightforward as knowing how to pass through someone’s yard without getting caught or as complex as knowing which specific item to hide in order to get a man’s attention and divert him away from the only exit.
The initial puzzles, while very charming and entertaining (mostly thanks to the goose’s animation and the way the music ramps up when the goose is in trouble), are all a bit simplistic. The game gives you a vague instruction to do a thing, you watch the people in that area to see how they interact with their specific surroundings, and then you do the thing. Taken as a whole, though, each of these puzzles fit together in the final mission and work to create a thoughtful stealth challenge that elegantly ties up the whole experience in a nice bow.