If I received a package from one of my ex-partners, I’d probably be a little bit afraid to open it. I mean, it can’t really end well, can it?
Across the Grooves, the visual novel from the team at Nova-Box,explores the concept of receiving a strange gift from an ex-partner and shows how it can flip your life upside down in peculiar and unbelievable ways. Sounds intriguing, right? It makes for a neat narrative-driven experience too, with the tale hooking me in completely as I looked to unravel its mystery.
Across the Grooves puts you in the role of Alice, a young lady who lives a relatively normal life alongside her fiancé. However, her day takes an interesting turn when she receives a gift from her ex-boyfriend: a seemingly normal vinyl record. After listening to the record, everything about her past is seemingly altered and her life completely changes to the point where she isn’t even with her fiancé anymore. I hate it when that happens.
Thus, she decides to pursue her ex-boyfriend to find out what exactly happened with the record and, more importantly, how she can resume the life she was leading. This leads her across Europe and into an assortment of peculiar scenarios as she learns more about herself, the life she is living, and where she wants to go with it.
I don’t really want to give away too many details about Across the Groove’s narrative because it is the heart of the experience, with the unravelling of detail about the vinyl record and Alice’s life the driving force behind the tale. What I will say is that it’s incredibly well written and dives into an assortment of fascinating themes, some of which are driven by obvious emotions and some of which were a bit off the wall and surprising. There are enough twists and turns along the way to keep you invested in the tale though and it’ll certainly tick plenty of boxes for visual novel fans, even if there were a few interactions to be found that didn’t always hit the mark.
Given that Across the Grooves is a visual novel, it is a relief that the story is a good one – especially since there isn’t a whole lot to do on the gameplay side of things. That doesn’t mean you won’t have a hand in how the story plays out though, with plenty of choices to be made during the adventure that shape events and determine the outcome of different scenarios. There are four icons at the top of the screen that relate to the choices you make (a spiral which represents neutral choices, a lightning bolt which represents anger, a flower which represents a kinder approach, and a skull that’s best described as ‘Alice no longer giving a f*ck), so the game clearly shows players the course of action they’ve taken.
The multiple choices you can make do add replay value to the game though, with an added incentive in place to see how Alice’s story can change based upon what you do – it only takes around two to three hours to beat the game too, so playing through again is hardly a daunting process. The fact that there’s plenty of mystery and intrigue to the narrative should be more than enough encouragement though, and there were more than a few occasions during my initial playthrough where I really wanted to see how all of the different choices could pan out. The sense of indecision I felt as I made my choices just encouraged me to come back for more and now, even after my second playthrough, I still feel like I have unfinished business with the game.
One thing that helps strengthen Across the Groove’s tale is the lexicon, which acts as a glossary to keep you in the loop when something is mentioned or referenced in the story that players might not understand. It was a really neat touch and goes into more depth about some of the things that drive the game’s story forward, which helped expand upon the experience in a meaningful way and gives the player the option to decide what exactly they wanted to find out more about. One thing I liked was the fact that it even recommended songs to listen to by some of the artists referenced in the game, which I was then sure to play on Spotify to accompany the tale.
Speaking of music, the sound of Across the Grooves is great, with plenty of subtle tunes to be heard across your adventure that always seem to fit the tone of the scene perfectly. It shifts through multiple genres as you progress and you’ll even hear some songs with lyrics that were recorded for the game in places too, some of which tie into the gameplay in a meaningful way. It’s good stuff.
I’ve got to give a shout out for the art style too, which feels unique for the genre with its hand-drawn watercolour stylings. There’s plenty of variety to be seen with the art across all of the game’s different scenes, whilst different levels of vibrancy within the colours made some areas feel more striking than others. It all felt intentional in design though and, much like most other aspects of Across the Grooves, always felt thematically adequate. It’s just a really pretty game to look at, with the presentation certainly one of the strong points of the overall package.
I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed Across the Grooves, with its emotional and intriguing tale keeping me hooked in until the very end. Add to that some fantastic artwork and music that always fit the vibe of each scene perfectly, and it’s easy to see that Nova-Box have something special on their hands here.
I have no doubt that the visual novel setup of Across the Grooves won’t be for everyone and there were occasional moments where the story could fall a little short of the mark, but for the most part it offers a fascinating narrative that I really enjoyed being a part of.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC