Written by Gareth Clark
More Youdunnit than Whodunnit, inkle’s murder-mystery-in-reverse casts you as Veronica Villensey, who’s definitely pushed her husband off a ship bound for New York and now just needs to get away with it for a few more hours. It’s impossible to avoid your fellow travellers in that time, so it’s up to you whether you choose to brazen it out, cover it up or simply pin the crime on someone else.
inkle’s games have always existed at the crossroads between 1980s text adventures, choose-your-own-adventure books and visual novels. From their adaptation of seminal gamebook series Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!, to their tongue-in-cheek Jules Verne adventure 80 Days, they’ve carved out a niche for themselves that’s particularly well-suited to handheld and mobile platforms. Developed in a few short months and surprise-released onto PC, iOS and Switch, Overboard! is notably smaller in scope than the developers’ other titles, but that focus has allowed them to create an intricate little knot of possibilities with a surprising amount of replayability.
Each playthrough starts at 8 AM – you are, of course, alone in your cabin, your husband already sleeping with the fishes – and ends later the same afternoon. In the limited time available to you, multiple options present themselves. You can attempt to pin the blame on your husband’s suspected lover, use your charms to seduce the ship’s captain (and possibly offset things he may or may not have seen the previous night), or simply go full serial killer and attempt to off anyone who suspects you. Alternatively, you can simply bumble around for the day and wait for everyone to draw their own conclusions as to where your husband might have mysteriously disappeared to. The other passengers – a rogue’s gallery of lovingly-depicted 1930s archetypes – wander around the ship of their own volition, so the results of your actions depend not just on who you’ve spoken to and what you’ve said, but where you’ve accosted them and when you’ve met up. A stray comment over breakfast can change the course of the entire day.
Ms Villensey is a vivacious villainess, dismissing her fellow passengers with arch one-liners and not afraid to use her charms to get what she wants. Initially things may seem somewhat limited, with a mere handful of characters and a tiny number of locations, but Overboard! plays its hand carefully. There are big surprises in store that may not become apparent until several playthroughs later, not everyone is who they seem at first glance, and the truly ambitious among you will be aiming not only to get away with literal murder but maybe also skedaddle with the life insurance payout.
Thematically Overboard! is Agatha Christie crossed with Groundhog Day. Mechanically it’s a slick point-and-click with multiple choices presented to the player at every turn, and the welcome ability to speed through conversations you’ve seen before in order to minimise repetition. In overall execution it’s reminiscent, perhaps surprisingly, of something like The Stanley Parable: another game where you’re constantly pushing at the boundaries of what the game will permit you to do, and where everything is delivered to the player with a knowing wink. Each playthrough starts with a few gentle hints to the player – what if you managed to get this person on your side? What if you were in this place at this time? – but it never gives you anything other than absolute freedom and how you unpick this knot is always up to you.
Overboard! is a breath of fresh sea air. Less ponderous than a visual novel, slick and snappy in play, it’s the kind of game that invites you in for a quick 15-minute playthrough but might still have you concocting dastardly schemes hours later. Veronica Villensey’s hapless husband might not agree, but in this particular case, it’s well worth taking the plunge.
Overboard! from inkle is out now on Nintendo Switch and Steam for £11.39