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Surreal web cartoon Tux and Fanny makes for a sublime video game

In one day I went from not knowing a thing about Tux and Fanny to proclaiming it the best video game of 2021. Yes, with three months still left to go.

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Tux and Fanny video game
Albert Birney / Ghost Time Games

In one day I went from not knowing a thing about Tux and Fanny to proclaiming it the best video game of 2021. Yes, with three months still left to go.

This is one of the trickiest things I’ve ever written. How do you explain to someone that Tux and Fanny, a crude pixel art game about Russian-speaking best friends (who look like simplified Teletubbies with their antennae removed) trying to pump up their deflated football, is actually the best video game of 2021?

People will think you’re strange, absurd, or perhaps worse: some kind of vile contrarian. But, those people are wrong (and should be avoided; you don’t need that energy in your life) because Tux and Fanny is an indie game full of heart. No, not the flesh kind – although there is a streak of oddness that makes me wonder – but that intangible and abstract quality that hits you right in the, erm, heart.

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When you take a closer look, everything is an adventure.

I’d never even heard of Tux and Fanny before seeing it on the Nintendo Switch eShop. It caught my eye and, after some research, I came across the film it was inspired by. Creator Albert Birney’s innovative production technique involves one-minute segments (perfect for social media) that were skillfully combined into a feature-length film, and is highly recommended. (It even sits proudly on The New Yorker’s list of the best movies of 2019.)

Seeing roughly five minutes led me to buy the game at full price, with no reviews, and no further questions asked. That’s something I haven’t done since being temporally challenged in the prehistoric haze of the early internet.

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So what is Tux and Fanny? It’s a King’s Field-inspired point and click adventure game that seems to echo a lot of wonderful games; the gentle breeze slowness of Animal Crossing; the warm comfort of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery; the quirky beauty of Moon: RPG Remix Adventure; the poetic soul of Kentucky Route Zero; and, of course, the charm of Earthbound.

I haven’t felt this way about a game since Earthbound. Every line of dialogue in this game is packed with flavour. It’s full of surprises. I want interact with everything. I need to interact with everything. It’s a game that clearly understands the tactile beauty of the interactive medium.

Need to cut some hair from a horse? Perhaps you want to pet some moss? Or maybe dip your paws (yes, you can play as a cat) into mud? You can do all of this with simple interactive moments that are never anything but minimal, yet the act of doing them is highly immersive.

But for something outwardly silly, Tux and Fanny feels meaningful. You will collect vinyl to listen to, read a surprisingly large amount of books (full of poetry, illustrations, and fun secrets), and also note down the birds, flowers, insects, and clouds you come across. I haven’t even mentioned the games you collect to play on Fanny’s computer! I’m consistently shocked at the variety, and by how inventive and fun they are.

Tux and Fanny’s is a small, surreal world that doesn’t feel lived-in; a cosy, interactive, whimsical world you’ll find yourself wanting to live in. I haven’t finished my time there, yet, and I don’t intend to anytime soon.

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Shaun is a writer, artist, and unholy devourer of pizza, but most importantly, he waits for Mother 3 in a state of cat-like readiness.