Note: The price tags listed are at time of purchase which may have been during a limited sale.
Across the Grooves
Transported - that’s how I feel. Across the Grooves is a graphic novel video game where you get to make decisions for the main character, Alice (Literary allusion noted.), as you are transported through a world tinged with magical realism on a quest of self-discovery and - I feel that you, reader, will find the word I’m about to use as quaint without a little more explanation into the game and how it made me feel.
To begin simply, if I were a filmmaker pitching this story, it would be as a cross between Sliding Doors and High Fidelity. The game resonates with a '90s arthouse, Bohemian vibe that is not directed at your typical gamer, but strives for something more literary and contemporary.
You are Alice, living your life in a beautiful living space with your fiancé in Paris. You work as a banker. You feel like you are happy and content, until one day you receive a record from your ex-boyfriend, Ulysse, whom you haven’t seen or spoken to in four years. You listen to the record and are transported back to a specific time. When you come out of the song, your life has changed. You set out in search of Ulysse, to find out how this happened and how to reverse it, but as more and more options open up to you, it’s up to you to decide which reality you want to make happen.
This game is utterly and completely romantic. It feels like an endless fall day just before the sun is about to set, that sort of mystical feeling that overcomes you as you contemplate the universe. As you journey forward with Alice, the sounds of the record stores, coffee shops, and bars across the European locations you trek envelope you in her world. You dive deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the record and of who you are and want to be while also taking a deep dive into all kinds of music. The watercolor tapestries that pass by before you are gorgeous. The music is hypnotic, and the prose and dialogue that accompany the imagery portray the world and characters so perfectly that you feel like you’ve truly lived this story and have met real people. This is a story concerned about who the characters are more so than simply forwarding the plot along with rampant exposition.
Final word: 100%, 10/10, 5 stars. Whatever gauge or scale you want to use, this was like sitting down and binging a TV mini-series with volumes of heart and characters to spare. My emotions were stirred, and I left this game feeling remarkably satisfied and with, perhaps, a little more knowledge about myself. I cannot wait to sit down again in a couple of months to see where my mood takes Alice’s life to next. Talk about living vicariously!
Price at Time of Purchase: $11.69
Initial Release Date: May 28, 2020 on Steam, new to Nintendo Switch
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Linux, macOS, Macintosh operating systems
Just released on Nintendo Switch, though around since 2016, this surreal platformer begins in the red-tinged basement of an unknown building as you take control of a character called Klaus who has lost his memory and remembers nothing about who he is except for the tattoo on his arm: Klaus.
I say that you “take control” of the character; this is something that Klaus is quite aware of and does not welcome with open arms. As you traverse each level of the basement and beyond, you are accompanied by a running commentary from Klaus (as script typed on each level), reminding you how much he dislikes you and several of the predicaments you come across. This, of course, leads to some character-driven choices later in the game that subvert your typical platforming experience. The music and general look of the game is cool and sleek, taking on a sort of '60s retro feel. The platforming is fun enough, but the weight and true enjoyment of this game doesn’t fully hit until about halfway through, when your characters begin to take on a real agency and you feel compelled to finish the game. The first three levels, though they do contain some inspired choices, began to test my patience.
Self-awareness can only take a game so far; it brings with it a detached irony that, if you’re trying to tell an involving story, can keep your audience at arm’s length no matter how clever you’re being. And amnesia to me is a weak way to create urgency unless you have a strong reason as to why you need your memory back ASAP. Thankfully, with the secret levels and story that are being told as you progress, bigger ideas and character developments occur that make the game very much worthwhile.
Final word: Despite my hesitations during the first half of the game, I’m glad I pushed on. Yes, some of the platforming can become repetitive, but once the game starts to fully embrace its surreal leanings and themes of self-identity, that in some ways reminded me of Pinocchio, I had a really good time playing this game.
Initial Release Date: January 19, 2016
Developers: La Cosa Entertainment LLC, La Cosa
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Vita
Publishers: La Cosa, La Cosa Entertainment LLC