There’s something to be said about a video game that is based fully around the thrills and um, spills of being a mixologist. Being able to play a game that is fully built around that concept is probably a genre I never thought I’d find myself dabbling in, but The Red Strings Club ignites a concoction of terrific ideas, placing you in a cyberpunk-retro dive bar and serving a palette of delicious results.
The cocktails on offer at The Red Strings Club have a secret ingredient, one that would ensure five star reviews on TripAdvisor and encourage gap year youths looking to find themselves will revel in meeting the master of the house at a moments notice. Each drink is created specifically for the consumer, made to trigger a particular emotion which is the staple of the gameplay throughout this delightful puzzler. Ensuring your mixers are poured at the exact levels and not overdoing it are the core elements. The point? You’re tasked with ensuring a particular emotion will resonate by mixing a drink precisely over said emotion, presented upon the customer. Each ingredient moves a target in one of four directions, whilst others can rotate it.
On the Switch, this works by using the touchscreen, mixing the ingredients by dragging them along the screen which doesn’t lend itself particularly well to the precision needed in my experience. You can use the controller, which I would recommend over using a touchscreen, the twisting to pour your ingredient with a second controller is rather infuriating.
It’s a shame the gameplay is built around this particular premise, because everything else is as tremendous as a first Sex on the Beach once you’re off the plane and down at the pool. The narrative in particular is utterly sumptuous. The tale of androids, conspiracies and more through the lens of the almighty bartender that knows everyone’s stories but wouldn’t dare share them with others. Your choices can make a real difference to how everything plays out, too, more so than most choose-your-own-adventure titles we’ve become so accustomed to in this generation. It’s clear how the decisions you made affect the world, taking on heavy subject matters but never once feeling like they have been added without purpose.
You’re tasked with acquiring information on Supercontinent Ltd, a human augmentation company that has far more money than concern for human wellbeing. Think Apple if they were ran by Hydra. They want to eradicate all negative human emotion, and to the games credit to offer the case for this surprisingly well, never portraying the idea as particularly evil. Still, there are consequences to messing with human emotion and that’s the crux of your mission.
One of my favourite characters in the game is Akara, an Android who has escaped from Supercontinent and becomes to centrepoint of how the story begins. Akara is smart and full of knowledge, yet lacks an understanding of the human condition, leading to some terrific back and forth with Donovan, the aforementioned bartender. Akara asks questions, an awful lot of questions, leading to quizzes and questioning Donovan’s role throughout. The best way to describe the conversations which delve deep into the positives of removing human emotion with an Android is to take you back to Thanos’ ultimate goal in Infinity War. Whilst on the surface Thanos may have been far more destructive, the way that film made you side with his motives, made you think that he’s actually got a point and he’s doing what he’s doing for the greater good of the universe brings up a cavalcade of morality based questions. Yes, removing sadness and pain and fear sounds like a wonderful option. But would we ever know we were happy? Do we rely on pain and sadness to delight in those moments of pure joy? Can we really have one without the other?
I found myself asking these questions throughout my time with The Red Strings Club, and it’s a credit to the developers that it never feels forced or weary. The narrative is funny and light-hearted and asks questions of the player which encourages a conversation away from the game. Unfortunately there’s an awkward minigame throughout that breaks the immersion.
The most frustrating part of the game is the ‘game’ itself, and when absolutely every other aspect of The Red Strings Club is so strong, it’s really frustrating. Thankfully, the terrific characters, the strong narrative, the gorgeous visuals and the moral questions the game poses at you tip the game into the ‘must-play’ review score. The brilliant story drags you in and doesn’t let go.
I’ll meet you at the bar. The drinks are on me.
The Red Strings Club is out now on Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Linux and Mac.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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