This article about Overboard is in the June 2022 Issue 4 of ChoiceBeat: The Visual Novel and Interactive Fiction Zine.
With eye-catching flat graphics and exciting period-stylized environments, no one could say the game Overboard! doesn’t have class. (Also known as Overboard! Get Away With Murder.) Literary elements and composition create an intellectual environment on the fictional steamship SS Hook, where your task is to resolve speculation on a murder.
It’s not just an ordinary mystery though. From the very get-go, it’s made apparent that you, the apathetic yet charismatic, Veronica Villensey, are the killer–of her own husband! It is up to you to decide what your motive is, or if you even care! For context, however, it is hinted that the financial ruin of the late Mr. Villensey is most of the motive.
In this article, I’ll cover Overboard‘s innovative gameplay and include some peppering of the satisfying nature of Overboard.
This game is available on multiple platforms.
Parallels and Comparisons
Mysteries are a respected genre for their ability to unravel a story at a consistent pace. But, with the exception of some frequent cozy or speculative interpretations, the formula is pretty standard. I can only speculate how much of this fluctuates between trope and innovation in Overboard, but it’s worth mentioning for context.
Amongst similar games in what I’ll call the youdunnit genre, there is not an absence of the you-are-the-killer trope. For example, of an indie youdunnit, the pixel detective game Loco Motive, a free-for-all upon the Orient Express, contains the theme of unraveling a mystery in which everyone is a Clue‘esque suspect. It doesn’t quite put the modus operandi of the killer so specifically in the hands of the player as this game does though. Loco Motive appeared on a 2022 Nintendo Direct and is set for release this year.
Because of this, it is an interesting side note to speculate if adaptation for pre-digital formats of the genre has become a trend. With an identical decade and similar characters, and me being a moderate fan of historical dramas, I personally find this trend to be intriguing. There are certainly other historical games, but organized crime and war are the usual themes. Overboard lets you kick off your shoes and enjoy a 21st-century version of an engaging 20th-century mystery.
Screen Grabs from Overboard!
How Overboard! Works
The ability to really hone every aspect of the story really impressed me. From the moment you wake up as Veronica, the ability to direct your own fate is based on a combination of luck, guessing, and skill. For example, themes of foreshadowing are important story-telling tools in Overboard. Because of this, what might seem like a character trope can actually help you direct the desired income by taking advantage of the character flaws of other passengers on the ship. You are really put on the spot to cover up what seems like a barely meditated act along with the quirks and nuances of complex characters.
Most of the dialogue contains response options that float between defensive, collected, and guilty. As you interact, mostly in an attempt to cover your tracks, the clock counts down until your arrival at the port which effectively ends the game. Also, the solution to Overboard is not as simple as it sounds, and most likely is meant to take several rounds of experimentation to get off free. Losing is not terribly discouraging though, because experimenting exposes the secrets of each character.
The game makes way for a new style of experiencing visual fiction and has been lauded by players and game critics. The interactive story gets credit for unlocking critical innovation in the interactive fiction/VN genre with every production perk that a creative dev outlet would pull together. Also, UK developer Inkle Studios has a bibliography of several high-quality stories, including the successful 80 Days, a take on the Jules Verne classic, similar in scope to Overboard as an open-ended/high-quality period game.
Summary of Features in Overboard!
- Open-ended story with many possible endings
- Stylish flat-graphic animated illustration
- Historically accurate environment
- Several characters with purpose and unique backstories
- Replay accommodation with saved history and no penalties
- A dark but witty theme
- A wonderful navigation system that uses an animated diorama of the ship
- Meaningful choices and time-sensitive objectives
- Risk, romance, and intrigue!
Other Thoughts about Overboard!
Overboard helped me step outside my comfort zone for mystery narratives. With the art so trendily stylish and the subtle Wes Anderson likeness, a genre in itself, Overboard put me in the zone. So, I felt like after Mr. Villensey went literally “overboard,” I was ready to have some fun quite soon. Nothing feels excessively sinister in the story–even though it kind of is. The ability to really mess around with characters can be really fun. The time-sensitive countdown for each game encourages fluid gameplay that can be used as a lesson for each next game. In that sense, the flow is perfect. So, overall, if you don’t mind paying upfront for an armchair adventure, the value is consistent. It’s definitely one of the more engaging visual novels/interactive fiction that I have played though.
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