I don’t know how it originally started, but I think I was around 11 years old and an older cousin of mine was staying over. Among the plethora of junky fast food ordered in for the evening was a tuna pizza. It was magical and it’s something I make every now and again at home, smothered with veggies and turned into a beautiful, towering mess. There’s something equally fulfilling when tasked with making similarly loaded pizzas in Off-Peak City, whether you use mushrooms or glowing worms.
That’s not how it all begins though. You start off on a small boat with two mysterious figures, who give you the task of stealing a prized saxophone. It just happens to be stored in a pizzeria, on the corner of July Avenue and Yam Street. Don’t be alarmed, the names of these roads are the most normal thing about this game.
As you begin assuming a fake identity by creating pizzas and delivering them to the locals, you end up learning about the weird connections between the different characters in this world. Warning: like the real world, everyone is weird in their own unique way. But this game takes things even further. The proportions are slightly off, the faces sometimes look scarily realistic even though they’re intentionally impassive, and the cool, original dialogue presentation occurs with the sounds of different musical instruments.
After each delivery, you’re also given the chance to sneak around the different apartments of your customers, acquiring secrets, taking pictures with your new, trusty camera, and obtaining different rolls of camera film. The characters’ personalities also come through with their close inspections of each and every pizza you deliver, ensuring absurd, precise yet brilliant conversations.
The world of Off-Peak City is just wild. (Well, the two roads you’re able to traverse.) It’s stranger than any street you might have seen or visited, even San Francisco’s Lombard Street with its eight hairpin turns. Some buildings have strange shapes, and several have faces. There’s even a coloured stream in the middle with hypnotised swimmers happily ignoring everything above.
However, all of this character is made creepy thanks to the quiet dread of the shadowy police force that keeps popping up. Everyone seems to be even more off-balance due to things happening beyond obvious explanation (similar to real world, I guess). And like Hypnospace Outlaw, it’s such a wonderful throwback to the late 90s/early 2000s because of the mishmash of styles that were so prominent during that period, something we’ve all seen glimpses of in recent years.
Although I’m yet to play the earlier Norwood Suite, I did try the free, simple-titled Off-Peak from 2015. Tales Vol. 1 is apparently the first in a series, and all of these things take place in the same universe. It’s bizarre and unsettling, yet also captivating and hugely engaging. This brilliant type of visual weirdness is what video games are made for, and I can’t wait to explore the mysteries of Off-Peak City again.