REVIEW: Unearth what's hidden below the surface in The Magnificent Trufflepigs
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
The place I feel most comfortable in gaming are the niche genres that blend the most granular, niche interests with familiar gameplay hooks.
And so, when I heard about The Magnificent Trufflepigs, a first-person metal-detecting narrative experience from the designer of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, I knew I'd never feel cozier. And boy was I right.
Just the Facts
Publisher: AMC Games
Platform(s): PC* and Nintendo Switch *platform reviewed on
Release Date: June 3, 2021
Key provided by Evolve PR.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs, developed by newcomer Thunkd and published by AMC Games, released on Steam on June 3, 2021. Thunkd was founded by the designer of the highly-lauded first-person narrative game Everybody's Gone to the Rapture.
Set in the idyllic hills of Stanning, a fictional English village, Trufflepigs takes players to an expansive farmland just days before it's set to be torn up and replaced by a solar farm.
"They scan the grassy farmland with their trusty metal detectors, mining not only the fields of the Stanning landscape, but of their memories as well."
Enter Beth and Adam, old friends with a plan to spend the week scouring the grounds with metal detectors in search of an earring. Finding the first of the pair as a child sort of changed Beth's life: She became a local legend and scored some cash, and that success set her up for the sort of life she's found in the here and now. Engaged, working for the top spot at her family's business, and... happy. Sort of.
Adam serves as the player's avatar for the narrative walking sim experience. A childhood friend Beth hasn't seen for years, he drops everything to support her in the search. He'll not only help her find the missing treasure, but also help her work through issues she didn't even know she had and dig into the truth of her motivations.
The two communicate via walkie-talkie as they scan the grassy farmland with their trusty metal detectors, mining not only the fields of the Stanning landscape, but of their memories as well.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs is about rediscovering lost things. An ancient hairpin, a shopping cart token, a relationship, one's sense of self. Things that have decayed over time and lost their sheen. But if there's anything I learned by the end of this game, it's that all things can be restored to their former glory with a little work.
In Trufflepigs, gameplay comes down to two main things: detecting and talking. In your remote chats with Beth, you can occasionally pick your responses. Most of these amount to "yes or no" choices, where you either agree with or discredit Beth's points, but they offer some amount of variability in the experience which in turn offers potential in replayability.
Detecting is just as simple as you'd imagine it to be, but engaging enough that it became one of my favorite parts of the game. As you explore the farmlands, one button activates your metal detector and then you're off to chase treasure, clearing one field each day.
A simple radar guides a meandering Adam in his search of hidden objects. When you detect something and find its exact location, you dig it up, all in a series of simple button presses. There's something about the mystery and wonder in unearthing each new item that makes it exciting every single time.
After you have the item in your hands, sending a picture to Beth begins a conversation. Sometimes it's a full back-and-forth call on the walkies that offers new insights into Beth, Adam, and their mysterious history. It can also be a text chain, or a simple acknowledgement before you're back at it, combing a new patch of land.
More so than even cozy games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, Trufflepigs manages to slow things down for a calming and meditative experience. It's methodical work, and I fell into it easily.
There's a softness to Trufflepigs's art design that makes the whole thing pleasant to look at, from Stanning Farm's grassy fields dotted with wildflowers to the drifting clouds overhead. There's no major stylistic hook here and it isn't photo-realistic per se. It's just... nice.
The pleasantness carries through in the atmospheric audio. The game's simple woodwind soundtrack punctuates the quiet moments and floats over everything like the wind that causes the grass to sway. The two actors behind Beth and Adam, Luci Fish (Safe House, Another Eden) and Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who, DC's Legends of Tomorrow), have a natural rapport that helps sell the relationship and its simultaneously comforting and troubling past. This stands as a testament to the game's stellar writing as well.
Amid all the coziness, though, a few problems begin to emerge. Pacing can be a bit bothersome across the game's two hour runtime. For a game that asks you to take a breather, slow down, and just have a nice time metal detecting, things almost feel rushed. The game is broken up into days of searching, and some of those days go by in a blur as you find items in quick succession, breaking up the calming flow of metal detecting with conversation after conversation.
Everything comes to a halt when you're mid-chat with Beth. You can't pick up your detector and continue along while responding. You just stop and chat. It's fine in moderation, but frustrating when you get an item, discuss, only to find another item and launch another long-winded conversation 30 seconds later. It is of course a narrative game before it's a metal detecting game, but offering up such a unique system only to interrupt it again and again feels like a missed opportunity.
Even when you're able to extend your daily session of metal detecting through a dialogue choice, the detecting feels like it cuts off too soon. Again, a minor quibble, but one that, for me, stands in the way of one of the best parts of the experience.
There's also a definitive audience for a game like this, and if you're out on the "walking sim" you won't find much here to pull you in.
If anything, my problems with Trufflepigs stem from my enjoyment of its core mechanics. I loved sweeping for treasure, but I felt like I couldn't get enough of it. This is my official call for the developers to add a brand new "free detecting" mode with a bunch more special items for me to sweep for in those fields.
The game's unique systems were an experience unlike any other, and it honestly has me interested in picking up a metal detector myself to see what kinds of hidden treasures await in the dirt just outside my doors. Its story is also a highlight, presenting an engaging interpersonal relationship with a sense of unease and mystery lying underneath.
The Magnificent Trufflepigs has grown on me since I finished it. It might not be for everyone — and it might fight against itself on the way to the finish line. But if there's anything this game taught me, it's that the roughest edges can only be softened with time.
video games are good and The Magnificent Trufflepigs is... good (7/10).
+ charming story with strong natural performances, meditative metal detecting
- frustrating design decisions get in the way of the game's strongest points, it's over before you know it
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