How To Win is an inventive twist on the visual novel genre that took place over the summer of 2020. Made in collaboration with a theatre company and an indie game dev, the idea was that people could submit suggestions on how to win the game over various mini-episodes. The favourite suggestions went to a vote and then implemented into the game. The result is a weirdly wonderful piece of carnage that still manages to string itself to together.
Each of the five episodes included in season one changes the end goal and how to win. I need to reign you in though because How To Win contains next to no actual gameplay beyond some binary choices to advance the story. Episode one features a mini clicker game for a few minutes and episode four has you play as a teleprompter cueing up newlines and sound effects. The actual impact gameplay has on the game seems very negligible though and so you need to be here for the story and the British centric comedy.
Thankfully, that is delivered in spades with an on-the-nose script. How To Win pokes fingers on society, capitalism, consumerism, media bias and sway, selfishness, fake idealism and northern English dialect with glee. Some of it is subtle, most of it is not. The idea is the game teaches you that winning is never really what it seems and the ideal world of everyone winning seems utterly out of reach too. Instead, it is in the little victories and supporting each other that you might be able to survive the daily grind.
Key to all of this is the cast of characters. Susan is evil corporate bitch personified. Elephant of T’North is hilarious although as the game suggests, I’ve no idea what non-Brits would make of that character. Poor Tina is both funny and really quite sad as the not so educated character who is made fun of and funny in equal turn. It is like a paper Spitting Image.
I think being able to suggest entries when the game was being made would have been a large slice of the fun and so with a season two being made – you get the secret link to submit your options when you finish the game. How To Win took me just over 2 hours to complete but I do read quickly. Being able to feel like you’ve swayed the chaotic story with one of your suggestions must have been great. That is why I’m reviewing season one now, so more people can feel part of that journey.
As a visual novel, How to Win works excellently. The gameplay outside of that is rudimentary and there to just add some additional flavour. Whilst I think I’d have loved to choose from the top two or three suggestions and watch individual stories play out to really feel like I had chosen how to win, this works too. Quirky, fun, weird and wonderful. Well worth a quick diversion.
Review copy provided by developer.
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