You can’t say no to a video game set in a video store on Halloween. It fits so neatly into the theme for our 31 Days of Halloween Gaming! Who wouldn’t feel nostalgic for the classic horror films, especially in good ol’ VHS format? Add the addictive synth-pop soundtrack, and you have the perfect setting for a Halloween party–or better yet: Video World.
What is Video World?
Video World is a short but sweet musical/narrative game set in a 1990s video store (remember those?). It has rhythm elements to it but it is not the soul of the game. That is left to the music. And the haunting Halloween theme. You play as Casper, the friendly video store clerk, working on Halloween and not exactly thrilled about it. To start with, there are decorations to clean up, snack bars to replenish, and a ridiculous puntastic, paranormal pumpkin who wants you to sing its tunes.
Video World was released in January 2021 and is a finalist for the Australian Game Developer Award for Excellence in Emerging Games. The winners are being announced tonight (October 6), and I was lucky enough to slip in a few questions to Jake Leaney, the game developer.
What Came First: Game Concept or Music?
Leaney: The music! I had organised some music collaborations and just fell in love with the songs we wrote and the new style I’d found in my music production. After making demos of the three songs, I knew I had to make them into a game. I focused more on capturing the ‘vibe’ of the songs more so than the lyrical content, and after many hours of sketching out game ideas, settled on one that just sounded like a blast to make!
Video World is definitely centred on music. For anyone who has worked the night shift in retail, it can be hauntingly boring if you don’t have good company or good music. Leaney has nailed this element with both a catchy soundtrack and the adorable pumpkin company.
Casper has plenty of tasks to complete around the video store but it is the blend with music and the supernatural themes which make Video World stand out. In between the mundane, Pumpkin Jill (your new best buddy) gives you rhythm challenges, matched with Leaney’s original soundtrack. There are three songs in total, each addictive and evocative in their own ways. To complete the challenges, you need to press the arrow keys to match the pattern shown on the screen in time with the music. The good news is the game’s progression is NOT dependent on your rhythm ability (otherwise I would still be there, trying to finish the game). You can set the game to narrative mode and simply enjoy the story.
A Narrative Game with a Witty Script
Leaney: Evidently, I very much love puns. Although I did write it myself, a great friend and local narrative designer Alexander Swords consulted on some of the characters and really helped me build a greater understanding of storytelling that very much impacted my approach. At the time I’d just been playing the piano for an improv musical-theatre troupe in my spare time (Impromptunes), and this also contributed to my inspiration for comedic storytelling.
Part of the appeal with Video World is the utter fun had with the dialogue. It helps build nostalgia and the celebration of Halloween. Classic horror movies have been the driving force behind Halloween’s popularity and the video store has the right element of nostalgia to celebrate it. However, none of this would work if you didn’t have a slightly outrageous character to highlight the silliness of Halloween. It’s not all blood and gore. It is about having a laugh with memories as well.
Short but Sweet
Video World is one of the shortest games I have reviewed for this series, with a complete playing time of around 20-minutes. And in that short time, it packs a hell of a punch! Video World builds a relationship between its two main characters and reminds us of the relationship between music and memory. What I especially loved was the role of Pumpkin Jill to remind us about the fun of music. Who would ever think a pumpkin would remind us of the “Joy of Singing”?
While the game is all about music, the visuals play a small part too. The colors are very reminiscent of a pop-party from the 1990s; a little clashy with the colors but just enough to pop and gain your attention. I think if the game had lasted longer than 30-minutes the colors would start to hurt but in this bite-size, it works with the theme.
There is an ache for more at the end of the game but then again, there is a distinct feeling that this was the message. To go out, find your rhythm again, and have some fun with music. There is something pleasant about the nostalgia related to video stores but we can’t hold on to it forever. Just like we can’t hold on to Video World forever (though you can listen to the soundtrack as much as you like).
Be Kind: Rewind and Play Again
This is definitely a fun game to introduce the kids to the memory of video stores. Of course, most of our kids won’t know what I am talking about because everything is streamed now. Video World can give a little taste with a touch of added pumpkin spice for fun. I love it. And I’m still bopping to the music.
Score: 4 out of 5 Pumpkin Jill O’Lanterns