Updated: Sep 21
In childhood, summer seems to stretch out forever. Whether it’s an idyllic season spent in nature or just a break from the drudgery of school, those brief months of freedom hold endless possibilities. Even if, as in Dordogne, you’re forced to spend them at your grandma’s house, caught in the middle of family drama you can’t understand.
Dordogne is the second game from French developer Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, a studio founded by award-winning animator Cedric Babouche. Maybe not surprisingly, then, Dordogne’s animation is immediately jaw-dropping, and its story feels akin to an animated short as much as a video game.
It would be hard to overstate how gorgeous Dordogne is. Watercolor paintings inspire many games, but Dordogne genuinely feels like being inside one. Objects stack on each other like layers of canvas overlapping, and vibrant colors make the city of Dordogne feel as magical as any fantasy game setting.
Dordogne follows Mimi, a young French woman recently fired from her job as a copywriter. When it rains, it pours, as the saying goes, and soon after, Mimi’s grandma passes away. Dordogne opens with Mimi sleeping in her car in a rainstorm while on the way to visit the city of Dordogne, where her grandmother lived, to clean out her house.
Watercolor paintings inspire many games, but Dordogne genuinely feels like being inside one.
The first bit of interaction in Dordogne is simple: using an onscreen cursor, you need to grab Mimi’s bag, open it up, and take out her buzzing phone. This mundane action may not leave much of an impression, but small tasks like this will come to define the game.
On Mimi’s phone is a message from her father, angrily demanding that she give up on her trip. It’s the first hint of the story about a long-fractured family and Mimi’s quest to figure out where things went wrong so many years ago. Conveniently, she’s lost all memory of her childhood years, including one pivotal summer she spent at grandma’s house.
Upon reaching the house in Dordogne, your first challenge is to get inside. Mimi quickly finds a key in the mailbox, and another small interaction unfolds. First, you must take all the mail out of the mailbox. Still unable to reach the key, you shake the box loose, turn it over, undo the screws holding it together, and finally retrieve the key. Each step is done manually — removing letters one by one with your cursor, wagging a thumbstick to pry the box loose, and unscrewing the back plate with a circular motion.
It might drag in a game with more going on, but this almost obsessive focus on minutiae makes Dordogne work. Mimi’s hand trembles as she unlocks the front door, the key jittering out of control when you need to guide it into the keyhole.
These small, intimate sequences feel something like close-ups in a film. You’re not just close to Mimi; you’re in her head, experiencing the small moments that make up so much of life.
Mimi sees the remnants of her grandmother’s life inside the house, and memories of the summer they spent together so long ago come rushing back to her. For the rest of its four-hour runtime, you’ll mostly be playing as a 12-year-old Mimi during that summer. The story is told in a series of vignettes, only occasionally returning to the modern day.
You’re not just close to Mimi; you’re in her head, experiencing the small moments that make up so much of life.
Mimi starts off petulant, resenting that she’s losing her summer to this long trip to Dordogne. She sulks as she puts her clothes away, and words flash on the screen for you to select (hope, mum, moving away). Do you wallow in self-pity, think about missing your parents, or try to make the best of the situation? This idea repeats throughout the game — whatever word you select will trigger a different bit of dialogue and be filed away for you to work into a poem later on.
As the game goes on, you also get access to a camera and audio recorder and find stickers strewn around the landscape. Everything you capture or find can be put into a binder given to Mimi by her grandmother at the end of the day. It’s a bit too limiting, only allowing one photo, recording, sticker, and poem. Still, the daily ritual makes you slow down to remember and appreciate the smallest parts of your stay.
The best part of this system is the poetry. While the photos you can take are undoubtedly beautiful, writing your daily poem lets you reframe the day in your mind. You choose three words you collected that day and select one of three lines generated for you using the word. It lets you decide whether Mimi is secretly resenting everything going on around her or starting to enjoy the slow pace of Dordogne.
For the first few days, this dynamic works wonderfully. But in its final third or so, Dordogne shifts its focus from an appreciation of small moments to an unraveling mystery. This mystery isn’t the stuff of thrillers; it’s a misunderstanding that shaped your family’s dynamic for years, building on tensions already simmering under the surface. It’s incredibly low stakes for a typical adventure game. Still, it shows how even seemingly inconsequential moments can have long-lasting consequences.
While it’s a significant event in the lives of its participants, investigating this crucial memory derails Dordogne. The camera pulls away from Mimi, focusing instead on what is not a particularly compelling narrative for the last hour or so of the game. Despite how much attention Dordogne pays to this singular memory, it doesn’t wrap up in a satisfying way, with characters acting erratically and then simply moving on.
For a game about the power of everyday moments, Dordogne doesn’t seem to believe the mundane is compelling enough on its own.
Dordogne makes for an engaging trip, but I wish it had the confidence to stay just that.
In one of Dordogne’s best scenes, you painstakingly make dinner by chopping potatoes, filling a pan with fat, and shaking it all together until it’s browned. While you’re carrying out this mundane task, your grandma talks in the background, pulling at the threads of the game’s central mystery. This feels like the right way to handle the incident — as an important moment that weaves itself through the seemingly unimportant fabric of everyday chores.
Dordogne makes for an engaging trip, but I wish it had the confidence to stay just that. Wrapping its story around one dramatic memory — and not even addressing it in a particularly compelling way — robs Dordogne of the potency of its message to appreciate the simple things in life.
Dordogne Review Verdict:
Gorgeous watercolor art
Charming story about living in the moment
Focus on mundane interactions is satisfyingly simple
Loses focus midway through the story
The story's finale is not compelling
The Dordogne review was written from the perspective of Nintendo Switch. No key was provided by the publisher. The game is also available PC, PS4/5 Xbox One, Xbox X|S.