Posed with several moral dilemmas that will keep players up at night wondering if they made the right decisions, The Red Strings Club blurs the line on literature and video games to create something wholly unique and utterly depressing for those concerned with the fate of human society. It’s not the typical happy-go-lucky Switch experience many Nintendo fans are used to, and that’s a good thing.
The game plays like a choose your own adventure novel switching back and forth between three playable characters set in a not too distant cyberpunk inspired future. Of course this means it comes complete with androids and all-controlling mega companies hell-bent on world domination. The first character you encounter, Donovan, is the omniscient bartender of the Red Strings Club, whose side act is working as an information broker in cahoots with a rebel organization aiming to take down a major corporation. It’s a lot to take in at first, but the game does a good job at helping the player stay informed on what’s happening over the course of its 4 hour long story.
Playing as Donovan was when The Red Strings Club shined the most. In a city full of cyborgs and humans with artificial intelligence implants, he’s the only one seen as a stock human making him instantly relatable to the player (assuming no one reading this is a cyborg). He makes a living serving drinks to corporate shills, and the rebels determined to take them down alike, sharing and receiving information for both sides.
In order to get his clients to divulge the sensitive information, Donovan, like any decent bartender, has to mix up a drink to get them talking. You’ll pour and shake up cocktails that match the emotion a club patron is feeling at that particular time in order to prepare them for your line of questioning. There are often times multiple emotions customers will convey and depending on which drink you make them they will offer you quite different answers to your questions. This is one of the subtle ways that makes The Red Strings Club feel as though the player’s actions mattered even if they only changed very minute story elements.
The main plot of the game centers around Supercontinent Ltd, a major corporation that has way more power than Google does today. It plans to implement what could be described as a mind control device that will keep the population of the world’s emotions in check. Donovan argues with those involved with the project on the merits of whether or not it’s moral or ethical.
You might think that yes, it would be bad to regulate everyone’s emotional state, but some of the characters offered me questions that had no easy answer. One such question being if the plan went through it could do away with war, rape, and discrimination. I was posed with which was ultimately a better outcome for humanity: a world where these problems still exist or one where they don’t. There were plenty of interesting and thought provoking questions that kept me thinking long after playing. How would you respond if you could use this new device to ensure that no one ever committed suicide or there was no more crime? There’s always a grey area, which is nice because the real world isn’t black and white either.
The bulk of the gameplay centers around the titular Red Strings Club so there’s not many other visuals throughout the game. There are two other locations: inside a corporate office and a laboratory, but it’s a fixed picture proving more that it feels like playing a choose your own adventure novel. As such, the graphics are retro inspired with a heavy influence from noir style. It’s always dim lit and raining so it doesn’t stray too much from other works in the genre. It seems it would fit right at home on the Super Nintendo.
The music always set the mood from melancholy piano jazz riffs to cool ‘80s synth tunes. When in the club you’ll be treated to nice piano notes that offer a compelling backdrop to the corporate espionage Donovan and his accomplices are plotting. It’s not anything that I would listen to outside of the game, but charming nonetheless.
One last thing I’d like to mention is the game’s inclusion of many disenfranchised groups as characters within the game. There’s plenty of LGBTQ+ representation in the game with Donovan and his partner in both business and romance, Brandeis, being the centers of the story. It never feels forced or something the developers did just for the heck of it. I’d like to believe that if we are heading into a future where you can upgrade your brain so you’re not depressed anymore, then a person’s sexuality and gender shouldn’t be a big deal either. Let’s just hope we can get to the latter without all of the evil corporations.
The Red Strings Club is a short and sweet light novel-like bartending adventure perfectly suited for the Nintendo Switch. It’s best played on a rainy day in bed with enough time to think about all of the different decisions and outcomes you could possibly make. It’s a thought provoking story that’s cleverly written in order to question whether something like mind control would be beneficial to humanity. If you like cyberpunk noir ‘80s films than you’ll probably dig this one too.
The Red Strings Club Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 7/107/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
The Red Strings Club is a great way to spend a lazy Sunday curled up in bed. The story is engaging and made all the better by its well-written cast of rogues. It’ll definitely leave you thinking long after you’re finished.