The Last Day of June’s premise revolves around a single, simple question: What would you do to save the one you love? That question manifests here in the form of Carl and June, a happily-in-love couple on a fateful date by the lake. The sudden onset of a storm cuts the date short, and the two race for their car. On the drive back, the car crashes, killing June and leaving Carl desolate and wheelchair-bound.
Carl’s melancholy is interrupted, however, when he discovers June’s paintings. The entire house is covered in classical art, but there’s something special about five paintings tucked away in a back room. Four of these portraits depict Carl’s four different neighbors, with the fifth showing June herself. Through them, Carl finds that he can go back in time, reliving that fateful evening over and over from each neighbors’ point of view. By changing small moments in each neighbors’ afternoon—preventing a ball from falling into the road, occupying a dog’s attention, or moving a rope as examples—Carl hopes to change enough to prevent the car crash and save June.
There’s an interesting backstory to The Last Day of June, and it’s behind most of the game’s artistic and cinematic choices. The story was inspired by the Steve Wilson song “Drive Home,” and much of the music is similarly reminiscent. That song, however, also inspired a 2013 stop motion animation with the same name. The creator of that animation, Jess Cope, was brought on board to grant the game its stop motion-esque aesthetic, and many of the designs—including the slightly creepy eyeless blank faces of each character—are clearly inspired by that animation. It works pretty well, though seeing the eyeless designs on birds and dogs can be more creepy than endearing.
There’s another inspiration clearly at work here, though, and it’s one that may be veering a little too far into copyright infringement territory. I’ll lay it out: Carl and his wife live in a cute house, with side-by-side armchairs and a mailbox that they decorated together. The couple hopes for a baby until the wife miscarries, dashing their dreams of family. After the wife dies tragically, Carl is reduced to a grumpy and melancholic man who needs a stair lift to move around his own house. Finally, Carl decides to take action to overcome his sense of grief.
Now, which did I just describe: Carl and June’s backstory in The Last Day of June, or the first ten minutes of Pixar’s Up?
To be fair, there’s more to the story of The Last Day of June that I won’t spoil here, and most of the gameplay focuses on events from each of the aforementioned neighbors’ lives. But there’s no denying that Carl and June’s home life is eerily similar to the story of Carl and Ellie in Up, right down to the main character’s name and prominent glasses. It’s a sad backstory, sure, but it feels as if the game is banking hard on players associating it with the emotional punch of Up and not doing enough to create those emotions itself.
Fortunately, most of the gameplay time is spent with Carl’s neighbors as he relives those fateful final few hours with June, and that veers into original, Groundhog Day-esque territory not seen in either Cope’s animation or the Pixar movie. There are four neighbors in the tiny town: a lonely little boy, a lovesick best friend, a hunter living in the shadow of his father, and a kindly old man. Each one has some unique abilities that can slightly alter the shape of the town, opening up new paths in that timeline. The little boy, for example, can use his soccer ball to knock over some flower pots blocking a set of stairs, allowing the best friend to walk up them the next time the timeline is reset and played from her perspective.
Most progression appears in the form of simply opening these new paths (since, amusingly and annoyingly, none of the characters are capable of reaching over a gate and lifting the latch to get through from the “wrong side,” not even the old man with a hooked cane perfect for the job). In this sense, large parts of the game are a walking simulator—you’re never going to be able to get to an area that’s literally gated off until you’ve walked the characters through it in the proper order. The more interesting parts come into play when you have to deal with the consequences of the changes you set in motion.
For every action that each of the neighbors takes during the day, there’s an unexpected result, so preventing the car accident isn’t as simple as it seems at first glance. If the boy is left to play with his soccer ball alone, he’ll kick it into the road—helping cause the accident. If he plays with his kite instead, however, he’ll take the string the best friend needs to tie up her packages, causing them to fall into the road instead. The game’s puzzles consist of trying to balance out these actions, working towards the ultimate goal of preventing the car accident as more and more unexpected consequences pop up. Thankfully, the game sets checkpoints of a sort, so once you’ve figured out how to, say, get the boy to fly his kite, you can kick off that sequence of events simply by entering the boy’s timeline and choosing that ending instead of playing out the entire puzzle again. That said, you can’t ever do things too out of order, so the game still reverts to that walking simulator feel that lets you experience an interactive story, rather than a puzzle game you’re piecing together yourself.
The Last Day of June is at its best when presenting players with ways to try and change the future, with the mixed results of various actions tying into the game’s themes of loss, grief, repetition, and acceptance. When it tries to tell its own story, it mostly succeeds—if only certain other parts weren’t so distractingly derivative.
The Last Days of June tells an emotional story of loss and acceptance, though it can’t claim to have an entirely original story. An art style that’s half cute storybook Claymation and half soulless, eyeless faces may be pretty divisive, but the game’s time looping puzzles tie well into the feelings of repetition and despair.
E - Everyone
|The Last Day of June is available on PlayStation 4 and PC. Primary version played was for PC. Product was provided by 505 Games for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Emma’s early gaming was mostly done in secret, as the only gamer in a family of normal people. She still retains skills from this dark period in her life, such as the ability to teleport instantly across the house away from the computer, and holds a gold medal in the Olympic sport of “Hide the Gameboy.” Sorry, Mom, now you know.