A warning, at the top. Goodbye World is only about two hours long and is almost entirely story scenes. This review will contain relevant spoilers.
The “depressing indie game” has, over the last few years, evolved from a trend into a genre unto itself. Obviously, indie games have much more of a human element than their larger-staffed counterparts, and the declining mental health of humans in general over the last several decades due to finding out just how screwed up the world really is, naturally leads to reflections of that state of mind in our media.
Several of my favorite titles of all time have come out of this trend. I’ve already talked about The Beginner’s Guide this year in my written Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe review, but I would put To the Moon, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and the Genocide route of Undertale on the same list. These are games that can make you cry, make you feel personally responsible, or challenge you emotionally to keep yourself going in a medium where you can, at any point, put the game down and walk away.
But all of the best games on this list have one thing truly in common, and that is a sense of sincerity. They feel like real and intensely personal stories that have been crafted and adapted into art – not that any of these events really happened, but more that the creators themselves were deeply invested in the narrative they were delivering to their player. The Beginner’s Guide may or may not be entirely fictional, but the bold way in which its writer puts themselves into the story is the kind of emotional honesty that you just can’t fake. There’s no way to stick the landing if you don’t jump the right way.
Let’s talk about Goodbye World.
We see the world from the perspective of Kanii, an independent game developer who befriends an artist after her previous creator circle split apart on bad terms. Together, her and her new friend Kanade create a game together while in school that wins a student creator award, and decide to go in together on developing a commercial product after they finish school. They move in together, get part-time jobs, and start work.
And they fail.
Kanii is incapable of socializing with people who aren’t predisposed to like her, and basically, everyone in her life except Kanade accurately points out that she doesn’t seem to be up to the task of holding down a part-time job, let alone creating a video game that other people will actually want to play. She’s got a simple coping mechanism where she pictures a happy cat, but it’s becoming less effective as the reality of the world closes in on her and she retreats into a game from her childhood.
We are led to believe that that game is “Blocks”, a retraux Game Boy-styled puzzle-platformer that the player progresses through over the course of the story. As things become more emotionally complex, the game ramps up significantly in difficulty, requiring pixel-perfect reflexes and keen game intuition for mechanics that aren’t spelled out as Goodbye World approaches its conclusion. Ultimately, I found that “Blocks” was an extremely successful meta-element that didn’t get too in the way of the story, as it clearly is intended to be overly challenging (and the player is only required to actually complete a few stages, as getting a Game Over will also make the story progress just the same).
In every scene, Kanii has her Game Boy, and is frequently using it to ignore things happening around her, whether that’s the dissolution of her friendship with her previous artist, her duties at her job, and even the publisher she submits her game to. I began to wonder if the title of Goodbye World was, in addition to the programming joke, a reference to the way that Kanii closes herself off from her surroundings, both physically and emotionally.
Unfortunately, all of this intriguing and well-constructed buildup ends up being spent on an ending that is explicitly intended to be shocking, but the framing of which ends up painting as offensive instead, in the opinion of this reviewer. The title of the game should give you an obvious hint about what’s coming, but I had enough faith in the strength of the narrative that I was expecting things to be subversive. Instead, the way that this game ends is cheap and wasteful.
Being such a short and simple experience, if the ending of a one-sitting game is bad, it inevitably taints the whole experience – and I would say that Goodbye World‘s pointlessly cruel and mocking ending goes several steps further than that. Rather than coming to the end of a thematic roller coaster, I was left feeling like I’d been casually thrown off of a cliff.
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