If you move in indie gaming-oriented circles then there's a good chance that you've been exposed to Lost Constellation already, even if you've never played it for yourself. The goofy, bungled snowmen with face-loads of garbage that players can create tend to make the rounds on social media in the winter months, which makes them even more recognizable than the game's reptilian protagonist.
While the increasing frequency of a snowless holiday season in my neck of the woods makes the snowmen alone a good enough reason to revisit this game, there's actually a lot more to Lost Constellation than the snow, twigs, and turnips.
Lost Constellation is a tall tale that nests itself within the world of another game, Night in the Woods (due out in 2017). Rather than being a demo or a vertical slice, this so-called supplemental game presents the story of an astronomer passing through a forest in search of a frozen lake during the longest night of the year. The forest is full of all manner of supernatural beings and her success is anything but a given, yet you're not exactly going to pick up a sword and start swinging to defend her.
The point is more in the atmosphere it evokes. Lost Constellation dips you into this not-quite-but-almost-friendly sort of loneliness and isolation that embodies a walk in wintery woods. There are the moments of being lost in eerie half-lit quiet and finding your way through a place that doesn't want you there; that feeling of tugging the blanket a little tighter around your shoulders even when there isn't a draft to provoke it.
But don't get me wrong, here. This isn't exactly intended as a spooky experience. I mean it's a little spooky, in the way pre-20th century horror where the monster was arguably the protagonist's crushing loneliness and occasional sarcasm the whole time (and also maybe a ghost) is spooky. But it straddles the line between its tension and its comedy, softening its more sober moments with a wry joke or vice versa. It's a strand of solitary footprints left in the snow, threading through skeletal trees, then pausing in front of makeshift snowmen scattered here and there along the way.
Lost Constellation is available for free (or pay-what-you-want) on itch.io for Windows, Mac and Linux.