The Sundew and the Allure of the Single Dev Game

The Sundew is a gorgeous cyberpunk adventure developed largely by one person.

I’m really enjoying The Sundew on Switch lately, a brand new cyberpunk-themed point and click adventure by one-woman studio 2054 (aka, Agnès Vuillaume, also known as Clemenc). 

Every now and then, I get an overwhelming desire to play a game in the genre that harkens back to its 90s heyday, and this feels like such a quintessential mid-90s product (albeit with much more modern sensibilities in its writing). We’ve got a cyberpunk cop, a Bladerunner and Johnny Mnemonic-inspired world, a ton of items to finagle in an inventory, and luscious, jaggy pixel art to enjoy.

I’m basically eating it up.

the sundew inventory

While it’s a common craving, there’s something more going on with the allure of the game — that it was made (as far as I can tell in the press materials) by one person:

“Founded in September 2020 and based in Tourcoing, France, 2054 is a new video game studio consisting of a one-woman team. Agnès Vuillaume, also known as Clemenc, is the French developer working as art, narrative, and technical director on The Sundew, a passion project years in the making.”

I’m pretty much always going to be impressed by and attracted to small games made by a tiny team, especially by one person. I used to be enamored with very personal games of this ilk, but in the last few years, I’ve been more entertained by small games that are going after other aesthetics: chiefly horror games (like the work of Kitty Hororshow), or adventure games of some kind of another (like the “tiny open world” of A Short Hike, which, importantly, did have a couple of other folks do contract work on), or the Frog Detective games

Part of this, I’ll admit, is an admiration for and desire to do more of this sort of work in my own creative development. I teach game design, and a while back, I made a couple of teeny-tiny adventure games (one of which was about dad jokes, really on-brand). The fact that some folks have the gumption and skill to do this on a much bigger scale — appropriately scoped for a single person or tiny team, but ambitious enough to offer a great deal to players — just makes me happy. 

Another part is just how specific and singular a vision a game like this can have. When one person makes all or almost all of the creative (and technical) decisions, there is a definitive stamp on the project. In a developer interview, Vuillaume notes that there are advantages to being a sole dev, including flexibility and an overall mastery of the project. 

The Sundew feels ambitious for a single developer, with fairly elaborate puzzle scenarios, tons of dialogue, and really beautiful and detailed level design. I have run afoul of some suspicious adventure game logic in a couple of puzzles (usually because I didn’t really grasp the order some materials needed to be combined in), but otherwise I’ve been engrossed in the game’s vision and vibe. It certainly goes places, most of which are a delight to poke around and puzzle through.

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