Right now, I find myself hopping back and forth between building the ultimate coaster in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 Complete Edition, aiming for first in Hotshot Racing, making another attempt at escaping Hades or going toe to toe with friends in Kirby Fighters 2. All of them great fun but at the same time offering something familiar (not that I’m trying to say that’s a bad thing). Not the case at all when it comes to Hypnospace Outlaw, a unique experience quite unlike anything else on Nintendo Switch right now and a damn fun time too.
It’s the year 1999 (although not the 1999 quite as we know it) and you’ve enlisted in the Hypnospace Patrol Department as an enforcer of Hypnospace, the game’s take on early Internet accessible by placing a headband on (no really). One by one you’ll be sent cases tasking you with tracking down illegal activity which can include things like the use of copyrighted material, instances of harassment, viruses and inappropriate material. Find it, report it and get rewarded Hypnocoins (more on that in a moment). Much like summer release Telling Lies – another game where you’re taking on the role of detective – you’ll play the game via a virtual computer desktop hopping between webpages, inboxes and other programs or extras you may have purchased with your earned currency.
Hypnospace itself is made of different zones each housing their own webpages to peruse and it’s through careful searching and keyword usage you’ll eventually reach the destination you’re after and uncover the evidence needed to nail the culprit of your particular case. Take this early case involving the wrongdoings of a user amusingly called ZANE_ROCKS_14. A quick search reveals they have their own page that on the surface might seem innocent enough but upon further exploration ends up revealing the rather nasty tendencies of ZANE_ROCKS_14. Like any game that puts your sleuthing ability to the test, reaching the much sought-after conclusion after diving down dead-end rabbit holes, searching keywords and chasing leads is a hugely satisfying feeling whether it’s busting very sketchy activity or when it’s simply a case of removing copyrighted work from a child’s webpage.
Hypnospace Outlaw absolutely nails the late 90s Geocities vibe it’s clearly trying to emulate, pages packed with garish colours, absurd backgrounds, low-quality looping music and all the amusing memories you likely have of the Internet back then. The attention to detail in each and every webpage is truly impressive taking you through everything from pages dedicated to terrible bands, healing techniques, conspiracy theories and more. For those old enough to remember the Internet during the 90s this will bring about smiles aplenty whilst newcomers will likely get a kick out of just how random and often funny the webpages are.
The same goes for your desktop too, allowing you to customise and purchase extras such as music, wallpaper and even virtual pets to keep you company. Even the way viruses work strikes a balance between amusing and annoying accurate plaguing your screen with nasty images for example until you install rather expensive software to clear your computer. While solving cases is the dangling carrot to keep you going, you’ll likely find yourself losing plenty of hours simply being nosy and exploring every nook and cranny of Hypnospace. Every webpage or download is worth the time it takes to find it.
As much fun as it can be cracking cases, things can get a little frustrating should you find yourself hitting a brick wall when it comes to your investigation. While a large amount of the game’s appeal lies in simply nosing around the many webpages, it can feel demotivating going in circles and getting nowhere especially since advancing the story results in newer zones unlocking and more webpages to browse. As you progress through the game, solutions to certain cases can grow increasingly obtuse too and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little nudge or two in the right direction from a friend who’d already finished the game. Some cases strike that ideal balance between challenging but fair while there are a handful that can leave you scratching your head and not in a good way.
The game runs perfectly whether in docked or handheld mode and the feels well suited to either option largely thanks to the control schemes offered. Hypnospace Outlaw controls well enough using standard button-based controls – although typing is unsurprisingly a little tedious – however, it’s the other two options that make this version of the game feel on par with even the PC. Touchscreen works great and makes playing in handheld mode a joy but developers Tendershoot have gone one step further and included keyboard and mouse support, easily the best way to play the game. Here’s hoping this is the start of future games offering this range of control options too.
Hypnospace Outlaw delivers a truly unique puzzling experience that’s so easy to lose hours at a time simply browsing the world it’s created. It’s sure to be a smile-inducing nostalgia trip for those familiar with the likes of Geocities but for the rest, there’s a truly wild and funny time to be had here also.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by No More Robots