REVIEW: Hello Goodboy has you paying it forward and petting the dog
Dogs are so important and can help you through the biggest moments of your life.
As anyone reading this can probably tell, half our vibe at Video Games Are Good is just adoring our dog. Commissioning art of our dog. Making merch with our dog's face. Allowing our Twitch audience to occasionally spend channel points to treat our dog.
And Hello Goodboy's extremely pleasant, albeit simplistic, narrative experience understands just how comforting it can be to have a dog at your side, creating an experience where a dog teaches you the power of positivity and guides you through the afterlife.
Just the Facts
Developer: Rolling Glory Jam
Publisher: Freedom Games
Platform(s): PC, Nintendo Switch* *denotes platform reviewed
Release Date: May 25, 2023
Review key provided by publisher.
Rolling Glory Jam's wholesome game, Hello Goodboy, continues the rise of the Southeast Asian indie development scene. It is the third release from the team based in Bandung, Indonesia. Their incredibly varied library starts with a purposefully rage-inducing platformer called Rage in Peace that found some virality on YouTube and finishes with a short and sweet collaboration with Coffee Talk creator Mohammad Fahmi, What Comes After, about a train ride to the afterlife released a year before his passing.
Each game they put out has made an impact of some sort, and even with its hiccups, Hello Goodboy continues that trend.
It puts you into the adorable yellow bucket hat and red pajamas of a boy known simply as Iko. Iko wakes up in an unfamiliar place with an empty mind and a surprising feeling of ease and is quickly greeted by a beautiful yellow pup named Coco.
Coco is your companion and guide in the world you come to know as Kuruto, one of wispy ethereal planes and a hallway with four season-themed doors. But most importantly, he is a very good boy.
Behind each door is a beautiful natural landscape that matches the vibes of its season and a group of people and broken things that need your help. The two of you, equipped with a set of magic tools and a positive attitude, will spend your time helping people and fixing things across any of Kuruto's winter, spring, summer, and fall worlds.
A mysterious, menacing force is wrecking stuff and spreading a negative force in the form of a black liquid called... blacquid. It's simple stuff, gang. You aren't doing mental gymnastics to make decisions or being surprised by some powerful twist. There's definitely a deeper story to be mined out here, but you don't need to think too hard to enjoy it.
And that's what makes it special.
From the picture-book art style to the overall kid- and family-friendly exploration of the afterlife, Hello Goodboy feels like it could be the video game tie-in of some universally loved children's show.
All the lessons Iko learns across these adventures are lighthearted and impart simple lessons about communication, mental health, and the power of positivity. The visual style is colorful, characters are given simple features like Coco's and Iko's dot eyes and squiggly smiles, and there are beautiful splash illustrations that anchor the game's most important scenes that feel pulled out of our favorite children's storybooks.
It's an approachable kind of simple. It has a similar kind of appeal as something like Bluey — a show that adults can appreciate for its gentle approach to teaching children important things and that kids find charming all on its own. Games rarely hit this ideal zone of being both enjoyable for and playable by kids.
Hello Goodboy's actual gameplay systems are just as straightforward as its story. You make tiny choices. There are simple timing-based minigames for all the repair work Iko's got to do as well as some incredibly simple rotation puzzles. And lots of walkin' and talkin'. And across all of it, you get that feeling that the game wants to keep all barriers low — making for an approachable, if not overly simple loop for gamers of all ages. And when I say low barriers, I mean it. Hello Goodboy's only real choices of consequence are "which worlds are you going to see and what version of that world's story will you see?"
Your first playthrough, which will take between 2-3 hours, only allows you to see two of the game's four worlds and only one of two ways each world's story can unfold. The design choice drives home the theme that you only have so much time and it matters how you spend it.
Your choices matter in that specific circumstance, to an extent. But it's so easy to hop right back in and blaze through everything you've seen or done to find out what you missed out on in the other storylines that it also ends up feeling like an artificial limitation in the end.
Part of the game's simplicity? If there's a right and wrong answer for a question presented to you, the game simply doesn't let you fail. You get: "Hmmm. That's not quite right. Let's try again!" It's straight out of something like Dora in a way that... mostly works. I appreciated not having to redo an entire playthrough simply because of one wrong decision but found the game's few stakes completely removed in the process. It works for the kind of experience Hello Goodboy is trying for, but as Coco might say: "It's okay to feel disappointed too!"
The one thing that even a kid might complain about, though, is the technical issues I found while playing the Switch version. There was a surprising amount of slowdown — nothing that truly disrupted the experience, but it was noticeable and something I was shocked to see for something as lightweight as this game.
Alongside that, the game's puzzles were clearly built for mouse and keyboard control and ended up weirdly frustrating at times as I tried to pinpoint a misplaced piece with an analog stick. PC is probably best for you in this case.
They're little things in the grand scheme, but the kind of things that would frustrate a kid while they tried to figure it all out. They're essentially the only pieces of the puzzle that stand counter to its otherwise approachable game design.
But even amidst all of that... Hello Goodboy is just a downright pleasant time.
I smiled lots, even if I'd wanted and even expected a little more out of it, but at the end of the day, I realized... I just might not be who this game is for. I imagine a parent and child sitting on the couch, doing voices for each character as they read along, puzzling out the ways to get through the game's light challenges, and taking the story's lessons about life and what comes after to heart.
For them, Hello Goodboy might be great, but for us...
Video Games Are Good and Hello Goodboy is . . . GOOD. (7/10)
+ a colorful children's book aesthetic, an approachable experience both in gameplay and narrative, a game truly befitting of the wholesome label
- devoid of any genuine challenge, which is fine if the narrative decisions weren't so limiting too, minor technical issues hold it back
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