Dordogne Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Zut alors! Splish-splashing its way onto Switch in stunning watercolour is Dordogne, a nostalgic kayak trip down the metaphorical river of life – and also down the literal river of Dordogne in the south of France. Umanimation, the production company behind the game, specialises in “transmedia universes”, its previous works including a web series and a VR short film. This, its first video game project, combines the airy sweeps of gorgeous watercolours with all the button-pressing fun of gaming - and does so to deliver a deeply touching rumination on loss.

The story focuses on Mimi and her paternal grandmother Nora. When Mimi is in her early 30s, Nora passes away leaving behind a letter telling Mimi to visit her old house in the French region of Dordogne. Mimi’s father Fabrice has been feuding with Nora for as long as Mimi can remember. She doesn’t know why, but it dates back to a childhood summer visit to her grandmother’s house. She has hazy, happy memories of the holiday, but also suffers from a mental block. Thus is established an emotive mystery wrapped up in halcyon, sun-drenched memories.

Dordogne Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Nora’s visit to the house as an adult serves as the framing device for her reveries about her childhood. The painted scenery makes a three-dimensional space with a combination of 3D models and 2D layers, allowing free-roaming control as you explore. The fixed camera angles as you move from one area to the next have something of the Resident Evil about them – while also of course being a million miles away from that.

As Mimi happens upon certain key objects, she has Proustian madeleine moments that whisk her away to that summer with her grandma. Control then shifts to young Mimi in the early 1980s, reluctantly starting a week’s holiday away from Paris. Needless to say, that reluctance dissolves as she discovers the bucolic delights of a remote old house with a river, a market, and caves to explore.

As 12-year-old Mimi, there is much more to do than in the brief sections as an adult. On top of exploring the house and learning about the lives of Nora and her late husband Édouard, various gadgets and activities are gradually introduced. Each memory plays out as a single day of the holiday, and each day is rounded off by completing a page of a scrapbook. Each page can hold a poem, a photograph, a sound recording, and a sticker. These are collected throughout Mimi's adventures with her grandma – from planting herbs in the garden to paddling down the river for a picnic.

Dordogne Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

What fascinates about the scrapbook is that you can only choose so many things to go in it each time. During a day, you might only find three stickers out of six that were available, you might choose to take photos of balloons in the sky but not of the river down below, to record one sound but not another. Then, out of what you have collected, you must choose only one of each kind to go in your scrapbook. This required selectivity forces you to leave things behind – choosing one thing means letting another go. Knowing that the memories are either being protected for adult Mimi to recall or left at risk of fading makes these choices all the more poignant.

It is Nora who provides a philosophical mindset to cope with these small losses. Having lost her husband, she comes to let Mimi take over some of his possessions and breathe new life into them. Her lesson is that things have many lives; even as they might slip away from you, their essence isn’t lost. It’s heartwarming, but only in the face of tragedy – tissues at the ready for the dramatic climax of the story. Of course, we wouldn't be so silly as to compare Nora’s beautiful and heartrending passing with the rampant clog-popping of, say, Dark Souls, but it does highlight the wonderful range of this medium that both can say something about death. As a feat of storytelling and poetic expression, Dordogne is a success.

Dordogne Review - Screenshot 4 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Things do get a little hairier when we get stuck into some of the technicalities of gameplay and design. A liberally-used trope in Dordogne is the touchscreen-inspired interaction model of 'moving a cursor so it looks a bit like the thing the character’s doing'. For example, you might have to hold 'A' to hold a lid of a jar, then curve the joystick up to lift the lid off the jar, then wiggle the joystick to shake the jar, and so on. If it doesn’t already feel old at the start of the game, it will after the umpteenth sliding of a key into a lock like that nose-picking game in WarioWare. To Dordogne’s credit, the instructions for what to do are almost always shown explicitly on the screen, so at least there’s not much fidgeting about working out what is interactive and what isn’t.

Elsewhere, the movement around the world is serviceable but not without its problems. Sometimes, Mimi walks infuriatingly slowly, and that’s occasionally exacerbated by slowdown. We nearly snapped the stick off the Joy-Con trying to drag the little darling along a country lane that felt like quicksand. Some scenes are beset with invisible walls or hotspots that are difficult to identify or hit. It’s not disastrous; it usually doesn’t interfere with the experience, but when it does, it can really destroy the moment. It’s a shame, too, that as the game’s handful of hours pass by, the emphasis shifts to more dynamic interactions, and the cracks in the gameplay start to show.


On its trip down the river, some of Dordogne’s design ideas feel stodgy, performance is sometimes flaky, and it leans into its clunkiest gameplay elements as it nears the end. But to get hung up on these points is to miss a truly touching story bringing a beautiful world to life in sound and images. There’s a lot to reward you here if you can navigate the obstacles and just go with the flow.