Headliner: NoviNews has hit the headlines on the Nintendo Switch and we picked up a copy to see if it’s more than just a rerun of yesterday’s news.
Hurridly scrambling to keep up with the news here at Gamespace, I wasn’t sure if Headliner: NoviNews was about to land a little close to my own front door when we first heard it was coming to Nintendo Switch. Indie developer Unbound Creations were kind enough to furnish us with a copy of their new Switch title and we got to work corrupting the world around us. Anybody taking the chair and loading up Novinews will find themselves in the role of news editor. Placed at the helm of a major international newspaper in a fictional landscape, players are encouraged to craft the news by approving or rejecting headlines. Originally floated as an idea at a game jam, this title then progressed to a fully fleshed out game in Headliner, released back in 2017. It’s final form hit Steam when Headliner: NoviNews hit stands and players were landed with a much tougher job than the 2017 iteration held.
In both instances, Unbound Creation’s game follows similar gameplay mechanics. The core of the game gives players a set of seemingly binary choices, approve or reject a range of potential papers put in front of you and watch the moral repercussions play out as the game progresses. This might seem familiar to anybody that has managed to make it through the moral maze that is Papers Please. Just like Lucas Pope’s 2013 masterpiece, Headliner looks like a simple set of choices made from behind the safety of the editor’s desk but it seems things don’t actually work that way.
Headliner: NoviNews is more than simply a rubber-stamping exercise and draws you into the fictional world that you end up creating, for good or ill. NoviNews provides a slice of life as the game’s protagonist wanders the streets of fictional Novistan. Once a day of rubber-stamping news is up, there are other decisions to be made and several conversations to be had. The walk home is littered with idle chatter from passers-by and more in-depth interactions. From a flirtatious co-worker to the woes of the local convenience store owner, and then there’s your brother. These are just a few of the non-playable characters that present themselves, and their lives, for players to enhance or destroy.
It is hard to understate how heavy the burden of the big green tick is in NoviNews. Each time the editor’s approve or reject stamp is used, the results run deep. What might seem like a change of editorial stance for the public good usually has far-reaching implications on the main protagonist’s personal life. The closure of a store, an exciting new opportunity, or the moral stance that seems right rarely end up having universally positive results. Somebody always suffers and Headliner: NoviNews makes sure that players have a personal investment in the suffering of those individuals.
This is largely what makes Headliner: NovieNews interesting. While players can make amoral choices or crusade for the health and wellbeing of their readers, the repercussions are played out on a very small stage and nothing can be fixed once broken. Annoying a sponsor can rarely be undone and irritating a politician or other country can be even worse. It is common to find Headliner: Novinews forcing editors into mutually exclusive decisions that have wholly unsavory results all round.
This is a game of tough choices. When things work out in a manner that you might expect then you can celebrate, at least for a time. Players might be willing to sacrifice a family member for love, but what about the truth, and the crumbling nation that litters the streets?
While the comparison to Papers Please remains, the graphics here are a definite step up. The low res animation of the original Headliner is gone in favor of a pairing of high-resolution storyboards and a stylized retro platform. The hand hand-painted visuals that represent important narrative points are incredibly effective at emphasizing the juxtaposition of each major player in the game. As you’d expect, the characters here are largely well written and personable. Some conversations do feel a little repetitive at times, especially since this is a game that is meant o be played more than once.
Complete each playthrough of the game and Headliner: NoviNews unlocks new characters for players to interact with. This effectively is the game’s progression model and attempts to give this title a level of longevity. Considering that a single narrative arc can be less than 30 minutes if players keep their head down and just focus on the news, this progression is sorely needed yet can get a little old quickly.
To add to the frustration, NoviNews does not do a great job of informing players about public perception. While the precautions of some decisions are clear to see, others are somewhat benign until the fury of citizens or the local government comes home to roost. This is one of the more frustrating elements of the game and largely is overcome by repeatedly playing through the yes no experiment.
Thankfully Headline: Novines is more than just a tick box exercise. The characters, writing, animation and layered complexity make this a game that feels layered ultimately rewarding. There’s little else to really say without spoiling the narrative but if you have ever wondered what a visual novel and papers please look like in one package then it’s time to find out. Headliners: NoviNews is out now for Nintendo Switch. You can find out more about the title at the official website or head over to the Nintendo eShop.