All great mysteries have a righteous and whip-smart detective at the helm. Overboard! is a bit different – it follows the morning of a newly-wed English former actress hoping to get away with the murder of her husband. It’s always interesting to play as the villain, and the game gives you an opportunity to carry out a murder and cover your tracks.
Overboard! was released by Inkle Studios to the surprise of many. Their portfolio of narrative-focused games and decision-based storytelling has gained popularity over the years, leading up to their debut Switch title. The game features an Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile aesthetic and the Ink narrative system so beloved by their fans.
Story – A “Youdunnit” at Sea
Overboard! drops you right in the thick of it: you wake up from a heavy, self-induced slumber the morning after the murder. You play as Veronica Villensey, an unremorseful (play more and you’ll learn why), fresh widow on the SS Hook, getting closer to your destination by the minute. You have seven hours to make your great escape – an escape that will determine your fate for the rest of your American life.
The boat you sail on hosts a varied cast of characters with existing histories between them. Each passenger has their own little secrets, and it’s up to you to hunt that info down. The little snippets of characterization the cast shows build up into compelling characters who have their own agendas, and how you can manipulate them to reach your goals.
The looping nature of the gameplay allows more of the story to reveal itself. You even welcome failure, because those mistakes also divulge some hidden information ready to be exploited for your next round. You are urged to try everything because the writing is just that delightful and oftentimes, very funny. Things like taking the sleeping pills or throwing yourself overboard spell immediate “Game Overs,” but why not? The format of the game supports trying every combination of actions and checking every nook and cranny.
The story in itself is riveting in its simplicity. The writing has a hand in the suspenseful ambiance throughout the game, with all the characters ready to suspect you at any time. To throw them off your scent, you have the chance to use the dialogue to make them believe things according to your strategy, but they will fight back with their own logic – their words and personalities coming off the page and after you!
As someone who doesn’t enjoy having to replay stories and do the same things all over again, I liked that there are at least a lot of choices in the conversations so that I don’t have to go through the same lines. The game does provide a “skip all” function by holding down ZR, shortening the moments to the decision checkpoints. Still, given the length of each round and getting the major endings, you might get sick of the story after a while.
Gameplay – Timetables and Trickery
Because you yourself are the murderer, it’s not so much a mystery as it is a very meticulous escape-the-boat game. You have to figure out how to outsmart the self-designated Poirot, Subedar-Major Singh, and convince everyone else on the boat of your innocence. There’s also a delightful number of ways to get around, some very surprising – for example, a conversation in the Chapel could take a turn for the weird, if you ask the right questions.
The number (and nature) of the things you do in Overboard! can be overwhelming. I managed to weasel my way out of getting collared for the crime on my third attempt. I almost got disappointed that it was over so soon – but whoops! Turns out that my real goal is to get out of the boat innocent and rich. And so the hunt for more endings began.
Once so much information came flying out at me, I started to get my bearings. The little checklist in the upper left corner of the screen is extremely helpful for keeping track of everything that you need to know, and what you should attempt. You could grab a pen and write down what you know to help you out, but given the checklist and the comments that Veronica herself makes, it’s a matter of trial-and-error. To get some endings, it’s about shaving seconds off of some interactions in order to reach certain events.
It was a lot of fun to theorize and strategize how to get the results you want while exploring the boat. Decisions can bite you in the back no matter how small, and it’s a testament to the brilliant amount of detail the developers put into a game set in just one act.
In the end, it isn’t difficult to discover a winning ending in Overboard! – the real challenge is to find as many as possible. Collecting endings and exploring all the possible scenarios will be your main source of entertainment and replayability. It would have been nice to have a tally of all the endings you reached, just for reference.
Audio and Graphics – Simple and Snazzy
Overboard! is a very neat and tidy game, with a neat and tidy UI to match. The characters are rendered in simple but distinct illustrations with bold colors.
The graphics are simple but illustrated the scenes effectively. Playing the game feels like reading a dynamic, interactive comic book. A game like Overboard! feels right at home with the brilliant text-only interactive fiction of yore, and the art direction allows you to focus on the mystery at hand.
Where the entire experience succeeds is in the sound design. We get voice sound clips that give the characters that much more personality and each action has a visceral sound effect to go with the minimal graphics. The music is a standout, treating us to stylish old-time ditties while we run around the boat and scheme our way to freedom.
Overboard! was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Inkle Studios.