Depression is a subject that is tackled a lot in video games, both big and small. Annette’s Umbrella Journey explores this subject, as well as how society views mental illness, in a platforming way. You play as Annette Bids as she platforms and uses her umbrella to avoid the negative comments that are sent to her by the Greys, the enemies of the game that try to ruin her happiness. The platforming is fast and the umbrella mechanic is very useful, but there are still some platforming issues, as well as endings that have their flaws, and the overall aesthetic was very off-putting at first, but in the end, I was liking it quite well.
Annette’s Umbrella Journey is a fairly difficult game. You jump from platform to platform collecting all of the happy flowers along the way, but at some moments it is hard to dodge the Greys, who toss lines of text your way that you must either repel with your umbrella or dodge by completing precise jumps. If you get hit by a Grey even once, you obtain the bad ending, an ending I find very problematic, and one that may not actually be avoidable due to a very difficult obstacle at the end of the second portion of the game that I have not been able to get through without obtaining the bad ending.
Update: Annette’s Umbrella Journey can be completed without getting the bad ending. When the grey platform is above you and the platforms are at different heights, walk off the platform and extend the umbrella to the right. This works and makes getting the other endings pretty easy.
(SPOILERS FOR THE BAD ENDING. SKIP A PARAGRAPH IF YOU DO NOT WANT IT SPOILED)
In this ending, Annette is overwhelmed with sadness and has to make the option to either commit suicide and “die a bright”, or “live as a grey”. This left a very sour taste in my mouth, as it portrays suicide as the good option. Implying that it is better to die in a moment of happiness than live with depression. I find this messaging particularly harmful but I am not sure if this was the intended message.
When games are about depression and mental illness, they either get it right or get it wrong. Titles such as Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, was researched fairly well and it attempted to show how psychosis affects people. Games such as We Happy Few, however, try to demonize medication. It’s either hit or miss, and Annette’s Umbrella Journey manages to be both.
The overall theme of Annette’s Umbrella Journey is overcoming your sadness, changing your sad thoughts to good thoughts, and live happily in a world full of things trying to bring you down. The umbrella could be a symbol of therapy, medication, friends’ support, etc. All of this seems like good messages, but they are ruined by the bad ending, which is the only one you are likely to obtain most, if not all, times you play.
The other endings, however, are pretty good as they add an extra layer of plot to the story, which revolves around the organization named Redefine Happiness watching Annette as she tries to avoid sadness. If she does this correctly, they pinpoint her location in hopes to put her in the organization. On itch.io the game is described as a downloadable propaganda made by Redefine Happiness, and I really dig the whole theme of the game being created by the fictional (OR IS IT?) organization.
Regardless of how it depicts depression, Annette’s Umbrella Journey is a platformer, and to be a good platformer you must have precise controls and fun gameplay. Annette’s Umbrella Journey has both of these characteristics to an extent, but it is hindered by moments testing your patience, an obstacle that I am still not sure you can get through without getting the bad ending, and the lack of music.
During the beginning of the second portion of the game, the first obstacle is waiting for Grey lines to be in a position where you can bounce on them with your umbrella. This takes a pretty long time considering the fast-paced platformer throughout most of the game. This moment is the only one that makes me hesitate to replay the game.
The reason for waiting for the lines is quite simple, you just don’t want to risk touching them. Bouncing on them with the umbrella is a safe way to make sure you are not physically touching them and it allows you to jump on the umbrella for a height boost that will allow you to reach most platforms. This mechanic is fantastic but due to how useful it is, it can lead to moments where you simply don’t want to take risks.
This also harms the experience due to the umbrella both encouraging speed by being a height boost as well as a sliding ability which makes you go through platforms very quickly, as well as a safe option that only works when Grey words are at specific locations. The umbrella riding mechanic scratched my speedrunning itch and made me see how quickly I could finish the game. The mechanic works fairly well with only occasional times where I did not have enough momentum to start the sliding mechanic, mostly due to the floatiness of Annette and the depletion of forward motion when staying in the air and adjusting for a landing.
The only other issue I have with the gameplay is the lack of music. Although Camber, the developer, is quite new to game development, music is a key part of the gameplay by making an atmosphere that encourages you to continue to play the game, adds life to the world, and increases overall enjoyment. The lack of music made the game feel somewhat boring, but my desire to speedrun test the game kept my interest for multiple runs. Other players may not have this itch to scratch and may lose interest after the first playthrough.
They could also lose interest when starting the game. Annette’s Umbrella Journey has a very bright, rainbow-colored and messy background and is contrasted by the dark tone of the Greys. At first, the loudness of the background was quite overwhelming and the overall look of the game was not very pleasant. I got over this quickly and started to enjoy the design fairly well but the start of it made me concerned about the quality of the game.
One great thing, however, is that the developer added key shortcuts that allow you to view all endings without playing the game. This was very nice as the platforming does have its flaws and is quite difficult at times. I could not obtain the best ending due to my lack of platforming skills, or possibly because the game can’t be completed without touching the Greys, and I enjoyed that the option to view all of the endings was available.
Annette’s Umbrella Journey is yet another game about mental illness but it puts a new spin on the topic by including a larger fictional story. Although the bad ending did not please me, I enjoyed the platforming and the multiple uses of the umbrella were very fun to mess with. A lot was lacking in the experience, but its fast-paced gameplay kept me interested for multiple playthroughs and the accessibility option of viewing all of the endings was quite nice. I recommend Annette’s Umbrella Journey to most people unless they are uncomfortable with playing games with content surrounding depression and suicide, or players who need music to stay motivated.
You can download Annette’s Umbrella Journey here!