For some people reading this, you won’t know of a time before social media on the internet existed. Forums and small community chat rooms were the interactive rage back in the late 90s and early 2000’s and its this nostalgia that Videoverse taps into perfectly. Bringing me back to my MSN messenger days after school and college with my mates, this places you in the heart of a small interactive community story about friendship, teen romance stirrings and the ephemeral nature of digital content.
You play as Emmett, a English born, German raised teenager who has the Kinmoku Shark, a online connected console that is a bit like a 2DS and a Gameboy had a baby and gave it a stylus. You can play games on it and also use it to draw pictures. Its also got its own connected forums where you can post comments, threads, private chat and connect an early low-res webcam to chat to people. Everything is two tone and you can customise the colours by completing certain tasks and being an active community member. The forums moderators are a bit slow on the uptake so its up to you to either report comments for the mods and calm down conversations or become a troll yourself. Everything has a repercussion though.
You’ll often be given three choices of reply to any conversation you are in or post you are going to make. Some may look quite similar but they’ll be affecting in the background how others perceive you. Your mate Marcus is friendly enough but if you choose to ignore him, your friendship can drift apart. Some interactions will spark friend requests and then you can start private messaging and chatting to them. This is where a lot of the teen drama kicks off as Emmett finds Vivi, a fellow artist who posts some amazing pictures. Initially drawn to Vivi on a creative level, the two can spark up a friendship, rivalry or a budding romance depending on how you reply in the chat. Other forum members may stay just purely on forum name terms but even those interactions can spiral off depending on how you reply. The more you interact, the more personal Videoverse feels and becomes and I found myself actively looking out for certain characters like Nobu and Celes as I wanted to be their friends. It is a great recreation of game fandom too as Feudal Fantasy is Emmett’s favourite game and so you can choose to bang on about it to anyone who’ll listen and worship the fanart others create.
The story takes place over several months and Videoverse allows friendships to grow naturally across 8 chapters where time moves on. What also moves on is corporate greed though and the Kinmoku Shark gets discontinued and shut down to make way for their new games console, the Dolphin. Back in 2003, things felt like they’d last a lot longer than today as now we are almost conditioned to the ephemeral way digital services vanish. The game deals with this impending shutdown and since friendships will be broken or lost in the transfer, its all a bit sad as everyone laments the breaking of a community and how a lack of care can savage a community too. Bullying and other adult themes play a secondary role across the game but its handled in a natural and sensitive way. It doesn’t need to be heavy handed and shows as much as tells.
I was taken right back to the turn of the millennium with Videoverse for all the right reasons. It is nostalgic, well written and full of branching narratives that can end up with lots of hanging questions and dead ends as you go. There is an option to save internet words of wisdom in a notepad which Emmett can then use in future conversations which can help you get towards some of the more positive endings. It really reminds me of the more innocent days of the internet before global corps came in and blew so many smaller community places into the dust. I miss this era deeply and Videoverse tapped into that.
If I was to be critical, occasionally you are left hanging working out if you’ve missed clicking on something specific to advance the story on. Usually I had clicked on everything anyway to interact with everyone but sometimes you can go back for a second message and it wasn’t clear you could do so. On the flipside, the lo-fi soundtrack suits the nostalgic vibes perfectly. The video camera animations are really well done and the whole Maxis style loading screen messages of the Shark each time made me laugh. I also commend the accessibility options considering the game is stylishly garish on purpose. Colour blind friendly themes, clear font, closed captions and self voicing options are all available.
Videoverse is uniquely nostalgic but it doesn’t rest on that aspect alone. It is a well crafted, beautifully told story that had me willing characters on and wanting to learn more about them over the 6-7 hour runtime. It was a delight to play and has stayed in my thoughts long after playing. Videoverse is one of my favourite narrative games I’ve played in the last few years and I’d recommend it to anyone – especially if you were online in 2003 too!
Review copy provided by publisher. Out now on Steam.
A beautifully told nostalgic teen adventure that makes me yearn for the early years of the internet once again.
Excellent writing, full of colourful characters and nuanced dialogue.
Captures the community fun of the early 2000's internet era.
Also captures the capitalist agenda of how the internet has started to become commodified.
Excellent retro visuals and chill out soundtrack makes browsing Videoverse a breeze.
Branching dialogue allows you to have lots of sub-endings for various characters and have a unique story to you.
Sometimes you'll need to click around randomly to trigger what will move the story on - especially if you aren't going to read and interact with everything.
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