Report Card: Overboard! (REVIEW)

It’s a scene straight from a penny dreadful. We’re all seated in the ship’s restaurant as the old Major begins to state the facts. My husband, the wealthy Mr. Malcolm Villensey, is missing. Lady Armstrong announces that she saw him on the deck late last night, and he wasn’t alone. Then, she heard a splash, like something heavy falling into the ocean. Everyone in the room takes turns gasping at the accusation, save for Clarissa Turpentine, who erupts into tears. Hushed whispers fill the air. “Murder? Here?” “This smacks of foul play, it does!” The Major seems pleased, a smug grin crosses his lips, and he begins to reconstruct the events of last night based on our testimony. The truth will come out. But there’s just one problem…I’m the guilty party, and I have no intention of going to prison.

Such is the premise of Overboard!, the newest release from developer inkle. Players assume the role of Mrs. Veronica Villensey, a woman who has just thrown her husband overboard during an ocean voyage to America. Your objective is simple, get away with murder. It isn’t going to be easy, the other passengers aboard the S.S. Hook have their own agendas, and unfortunately for our new widow, taking the fall for murder isn’t on anyone’s to-do list. It’s going to take deduction, persuasion, and more than a little dirty pool to see one of them taken ashore in the handcuffs meant for you. Oh, and there’s also the fact that the S.S. Hook will reach Brooklyn in just under eight hours. Veronica has quite the task in front of her…but why stop at staying out of prison? It certainly wouldn’t hurt to have some life insurance money and a handsome new beau to kick-start a new life in America.

Overboard! is, as you may have surmised, a detective game. What may surprise you is the inclusion of some light roguelite elements! The game is designed to be completed over several attempts. Fortunately, even though the S.S. Hook will reach America in eight hours in-game, a single playthrough of Overboard! will last less than one. Time passes with each little decision you make, and moving about the ship consumes even more time. Every passenger has a schedule they will rigidly follow, unless the player influences them to behave differently. “Runs” of Overboard! are, in practice, more about gathering information and finding weaknesses than successfully framing someone for murder. Only after thoroughly picking through a shipmate or two will you find a common thread that, if tugged properly, will cause events to unravel in such a way as to see someone else take the fall.

If the word “roguelite” set off some alarms about difficulty for you, don’t worry. Overboard! has a few systems in place to keep you from getting totally stuck. After your first attempt, the game introduces a list of helpful questions and hints to give you something to strive for. These questions are masterfully done, never going so far as to spoil anything. If, for example, Mr. Carstairs were to say some things that caused you to be (rightfully) arrested, the game may give you the question, “How can I keep Mr. Carstairs quiet?”. Questions that you may very well be asking yourself, but kept in a neat list that’s only a button press away.

Overboard! has a couple of other noteworthy tools to help you keep your bearings as you navigate a ship full of potential scapegoats. You’re going to make a lot of choices in a variety of scenarios, and it can be hard to keep track of the choices you’ve made before. In any scene you’ve completed, the choices you made on your last viewing will be highlighted in green. You can even hold down a button to fast-forward the scene while making those same choices again. It’s a really handy feature for speeding through sequences related to important items or events that you’re going to see several times. If you make a mistake in a scene, you also get one chance to start the scene over from the beginning. I, personally, found both of these helping hands to be quite useful without coming across as being too hand-holding.

Now that we’ve talked mechanics, we can have a (spoiler-free) discussion about Overboard!’s story. If you’ve got a taste for pulpy detective fiction (and I know I do), Overboard! is going to make you very happy indeed. Everyone aboard the S.S. Hook has an agenda and/or dark secret that needs exposing. Often, you’ll need to find a way to use two or more people’s secrets together to get your desired outcome. It can be a lot of information, especially early in your time with the game, but it’s not so much as to be overwhelming, thanks to the relatively small cast of characters. I found the characters to be charming, though they aren’t terribly complex. Overboard!’s writing is more or less perfect for what the game sets out to achieve.

Presentation is, perhaps, where Overboard! begins to falter just a bit. The art is simple, but visually appealing and colorful. Character designs feel appropriate to the setting and are unique enough to be represented by distinctive silhouettes on the map screen. The animations, which are used sparingly, are very basic, amounting to little more than flipping and sliding static images. I didn’t find the music to be particularly memorable, either, though it’s all perfectly suited to the 1930s motif the game is going for. Overboard! feels very much like a game that was put together fairly quickly in a bout of enthusiasm, and while I don’t have a problem with that, it was clear concessions had to be made.

Overboard! is a rare game that captured my attention almost immediately after I read about its release, and it didn’t let go until I rolled the credits. Granted, it wasn’t a particularly long affair (only about 4 hours), but I’m far from finished. Over the coming weeks, I imagine I’ll at least double my time spent with Overboard! as I try to see all the possible outcomes. I’ve been presented with one objective in particular that I can’t even begin to plan out yet. If you’re in the market for a quick, fun romp of a detective game, you need to pick this game up. Overboard! isn’t perfect, it isn’t even the apex of its genre, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

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