Wheels of Aurelia is a release that’s difficult to review as a “game”. Developed by Santa Ragione last year and now published on the Nintendo Switch by Mixed Bag who, after releasing Forma.8, certainly live up to their name. This is a game more about “the experience” as you follow the young Lella on her road trip through Italy in the 1970’s. It’s a bold choice of subject and not one that would particularly excite most gamers if they heard about it, but it’s not to be dismissed.
Wheels of Aurelia is quite a minimalistic game as far as gameplay is concerned. It’s a game that is heavily focused on the story and Lella’s past and the whole atmosphere of Italy at that time. As Lella travels on the famous Via Aurelia, she meets a varied and colourful cast of characters that she picks up and chats with. Now, even though I’m old, I’m not quite ancient enough to know all of the turmoil that was going on in the country at the time. In that regard, it’s a bit of a double edged sword. It’s interesting to learn or be involved with what was going on at the time, but also, some references will go over your head. Either way, it’s clear to see that the developers are holding some kind of grudge against the time as it’s an especially one sided argument.
You can choose your car and its colour and head on your way with passenger and new friend Olga. The car move automatically on its own but can be sped up with the B button, you’ll also need to steer it with the left analogue stick to avoid traffic. This is the least consequential of all things in the game. You can drive as terribly as you want to, crash into cars, all sorts and nothing happens. In all honesty, this didn’t need to be here and just feels like it was added as an excuse to call it more of a game.
What really matters are the decisions you make. There are three major consequences in the game: Which roads you take, which people you pick up and which dialogue choices you take. What may deal a killing blow to the game for many people is the length. The first play through will not last you very long at all. When I say 10 to 20 minutes I know you’re going to suck in a lot of air but the main point of Aurelia is replaying it and finding all 16 endings. Yes, 16! I, myself, didn’t get them all as I decided that just a handful were enough for me as I needed to move on to other things. The question is though, if I wasn’t so busy reviewing other games, would I be inclined to play through Wheels of Aurelia more than a dozen times in order to see most of the endings? Is it worth it? Yes, I think so but it does suffer a little with repetition as any game that’s focused on replayability does.
The game tries its best to avoid the repetition though and does mediate matters somewhat by allowing you to start the game at a few various points along the journey so you’re not always starting from the beginning. Despite that, you’re still going to see a lot of the same dialogue after the first handful of endings.
As said, there are three things you can do you influence which ending you get. The first are the dialogue options where you can choose to leave people, ask people to join you or even step up to a challenge. Then you have the hitchhikers you can choose to pick up or not. To give the game some credit, there are a bunch of weird and wonderful characters and probably make the game more interesting overall, even if they take the levels of believability to quite a low. Then finally, there are forks in the road which can take you to different cities which allows you to follow through with the current objective or abandon it for something else.
Now, it’s not all about the endings. It’s about the journey too. Along the way you’ll have conversations with all the various people you can pick up and interact with. At points you’ll be involved in a bank robbery, a street race and even helping the police track down fascists. It’s interesting to see how completely different things can turn out with just one decision and that’s to the game’s credit.
The game looks quite nice in its blocky, bright nature. It has the colour palette of what you’d expect 70’s Italy to be like if that makes any sense. It seems wonderfully handcrafted as you travel from locale to locale.
The music is just absolutely sublime and as ridiculous as it sounds, is just about worth playing the game for that alone. All completely original tracks, made specifically for the game with the 70’s theme in mind. To tell you that as I’m writing this review right now, I’m listening to the soundtrack. That should tell you all you need to know in that regard.
All in all, there’s not a vast amount to say about Wheels of Aurelia because it is what it is. If you’re into character driven (pun totally unintentional) games with a more laid back attitude. This is the game for you. If you want to soak in 70’s Italian history with an awesome soundtrack, this is the game for you. If, however, you want something with a bit more meat, a bit more longevity and more involved gameplay, then this game is not for you. It’s interesting to say the least and it completely depends on your taste as a gamer.
Game provided by Mixed Bag.