The Red Strings Club might look like another point-and-click adventure at first glance, but it’s so much more than that. In fact, there’s no item hoarding and randomly clicking objects whilst hoping for the best – instead, you take the team of the bartender Donovan, hacking-detective Brandeis, and the personality-shaping android Akara and lead them on a cyberpunk thriller as they look to take down a megacorporation by pouring drinks, talking on the phone, and doing futuristic pottery. Yeah, it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds, believe me.
The Red Strings Club takes place in a world where a big mega corporation is looking to fix humanity’s woes. Their solution? Giving people special implants that take away all of their bad emotions and replacing them with them with positive traits that’ll help them strive towards success. Seems like a good thing, right? Well, not to our gang of protagonists, who see a bigger conspiracy at work during an unlikely encounter with each other and decide to uncover what exactly is going on. Taking down the mega corporation seems like the best idea, right? Well, with the twists and turns that the game takes, it’s not always clear who the ‘bad guy’ really is – I mean, it’s possible that it could even be you. Thus you swap roles between Donovan, Brandeis and Akara and try to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Donovan’s role in the game is pretty straightforward, with him serving drinks to customers all whilst finding out any nuggets of information he can from them. How does he do this? By tugging at their emotions, of course.
When serving a customer, you’ll see a different set of emotions that they’re feeling, with things like depression, anxiety, fear and pride going through their minds. You can exploit these by putting together the right drinks, with the player able to select a spirit and manually pour it into a glass – each spirit moves your cursor in different ways, with the goal being to get the cursor to move directly over an emotion’s icon. It probably sounds a little confusing when I put it like that, but it’s actually pretty intuitive in-game and makes for a surprisingly fun endeavour. You don’t need to be some bartending whizz either, with the player able to pour out the drink if they don’t quite match the emotions or even drop an ice cube in to narrow it down with a nice finishing touch.
When you hit the emotion, you’ll speak to the customer and find out information from them based upon what they’re feeling – if you go for pride you might find them gloating about their work on some secret project, or alternatively if you go for anxiety they might accidentally reveal a secret that they’re worried about. You can pick and choose which emotion to go for with each character depending on their personality, but each one will always make for an interesting interaction as you find out more about the underlying mystery behind what’s going on in the world.
It’s actually possible to have shaped the personality of some of your customers earlier on in the game though, with Akara placing implants into their bodies that make them react to different situations in a variety of ways. This is all done in a sculpting mini-game, and no, you won’t be moulding pots with a ghostly Patrick Swayze, but instead putting together implants that bring with them specific personality traits.
This involves spinning a plate with the A button and then moving different tools to match the shape of the intended implant, which is actually a pretty fiddly process – especially since there’s no margin for error when putting each implant together. Don’t get me wrong, all you have to do is concentrate and take your time in order to get it done, but with some awkward controls and a lack of precision whilst using a control stick it can become a fussy procedure.
At least the whole concept behind the implants is neat though and the way it affects different characters certainly makes for some interesting scenarios, especially since you get to choose what implant they receive. Do you help the girl who wants more social media followers by improving her online presence or do you remove her craving for attention? Do you help the guy itching to make a success of his business by giving him the persuasion skills to pull in investors or do you remove his desire for power? It’s these little things that make for some fun scenarios in-game and when you start modifying the personalities of the bigwigs of the mega corporation it can get particularly interesting – it’s just a shame that the mini-game that plays out alongside it is just a little awkward in design.
Brandeis’ role revolves around tricking people on the phone by hacking into the line, changing his voice with a modulator, and then speaking to different people whilst pretending to be someone else. Best of all, they all respond differently depending on who they THINK they’re talking to, with some characters only willing to spill information to specific people. It’s probably the most straightforward of all of the mini-games in The Red Strings Club and it’s also the one that depends the most on trial and error, but it still makes for some interesting encounters and it’s quite gripping to find out so much information through a clear form of deceit.
Whilst the mini-games are at the forefront from a gameplay perspective, a lot of the enjoyment you’ll get from The Red Strings Club comes from how well written it is. It’s hard not to get pulled into the world and the tricky situations it places you in, whilst no interaction with other characters feels like filler conversation – everything has a place here and there are tid-bits of information to be found just about anywhere. There’s just a lot of personality to be found throughout the game, whilst the fact that the main cast are so witty and likable ensures that you’ll even get a few chuckles in along the way. It’s not serious ALL the time…
There are no fail states to be found in the game, so you’ve essentially got some flexibility to do what you want with no worries. There are some alternative ways to approach situations though – the implants you provide certain characters with when playing as Akara can change their personality later in the game for example, whilst the emotions you push towards when serving drinks as Donovan can change the information you can potentially find out. These actions all tie into the narrative nicely and might even have you contemplating the repercussions of everything you’re doing in the game, with The Red Strings Club offering plenty of twists and turns throughout that could potentially change your outlook on the events taking place. The adventure only lasts around three to four hours, but that’s more than long enough to get completely drawn into the world and emotionally attached to the events taking place.
The Red Strings Club plays well on the Nintendo Switch, with the touch screen proving useful when you want to quickly interact with objects and the portability of the console perfect for when you just want to relax with a good point-and-click style adventure on the go or in the comfort of bed (hey, it beats reading a book). There were some small issues though, such as the cursor not moving with the fluidity of a mouse and lacking precision for some of the mini-games, whilst the face buttons could’ve been potentially used for shortcuts for specific actions in-game but are instead underutilised. They’re small issues and things that console gamers have been used to with point-and-click style games for some time, but I still feel they’re worth mentioning. At least for the most part it’s a very good port and I’d still recommend playing the game on the Nintendo Switch, especially if the portability of the console is a deal-breaker.
The Red Strings Club offers one heck of a thrilling cyberpunk adventure, with the blend of (mostly) enjoyable mini-games and genuinely well-written character interactions coming together nicely to make for a tale that’ll really pull you in. I found it hard to put my Switch down once I’d started playing – I actually finished it in one sitting – and even when I was done with the game I couldn’t stop thinking about the themes that it tackled and the way that they were all presented.
Some sketchy controls during some mini-games and the natural awkwardness of using a controller in a point-and-click style game do hold it back a little bit, but for the most part this is a solid port of an enthralling sci-fi thriller. If you’re a fan of a good cyberpunk tale or just want to lose yourself in a genuinely intriguing narrative, you’ll really want to check The Red Strings Club out.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC