Sometimes a game comes along and the experience is so unique that it changes your entire perspective. Genesis Noir, an extrastellar love story, fits very neatly into that category, even as it evades a solid genre categorization. Players are taken on a trip through the Big Bang and beyond through its use of stylized graphics, cosmic themes, and hot jazz. And while Nintendo Switch may not be the best place to experience this game, it’s still worth the ride.
Genesis Noir, at its core, is a story about loss and the lengths people will go through to avoid it. Players take on the role of No Man, a humble watchmaker, as he tries to save his lover Miss Mass from her jealous ex, the Golden Boy. To do this, he needs to prevent the Big Bang, which is literally the shot from a gun. The event is so profound that it creates an entire universe — our universe.
The bulk of the game is spent solving point-and-click puzzles in a monochromatic world, getting No Man closer and closer to being able to stop the projectile from embarking on its course. He jumps in and out of the trail of the Big Bang, arriving at various points in the universe’s timeline, collecting the materials necessary to create a black hole. Nothing is brain-bendingly difficult for better or worse, leaving the player free to contemplate the story.
Made of star stuff
Genesis Noir is, quite simply, a brilliant experience from a narrative perspective. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much of my time with a video game pondering what everything meant. The developers crafted an astoundingly deep world and story. The characters could be people who represent cosmic forces or cosmic forces that represent people. The universe is vast and unknowable, but flip the perspective and it lasts for the fraction of an instant that it takes for a bullet to travel the length of a bedroom. It’s trippy — but in all the best ways.
The game ties things together in a satisfying way via its clever use of themes. Some are obvious, like inward spirals being used as material for making a black hole. Some are a little more subtle, like the Doomsday Clock imagery that becomes more and more pronounced as you get closer to the end of the world. You’ll come across things that resemble Golden Boy, from musical instruments to constellations, and it’s often funny how No Man reacts to these things.
Finally, the overall style is incredible. The use of black and white with gold sprinkled here and there makes the artwork pop. Every area and time period has a distinct style, from the abstract expanses of the early universe, to the snowy plains of feudal Japan, to the concrete and discrete designs of our spacefaring future. The jazz soundtrack is also a delight and keeps the entire experience grounded in gritty noir. Besides, jazz makes everything cooler — just ask the Looney Tunes and Persona 5.
The sword of science is double-edged
While Genesis Noir excels in story and style, the gameplay and technical performance don’t hold up as well. The aforementioned puzzles may be too easy for some people, and there aren’t really any moments in the game where you’ll feel clever, which is the most important part of a point-and-click adventure. Even worse, the interface does not complement playing with a controller; it’s clearly a computer game that found its way to Nintendo Switch, and the entire game feels hobbled because of it. The cursor — mapped to the joystick — never moves at a speed that feels right. No Man moves way too slowly and still somehow misses the mark when picking stuff up off the ground.
Another glaring problem with Genesis Noir is just how buggy and unstable it is on Switch. During walking sections, it’s easy to accidentally clip No Man out of bounds. The cursor jumps around constantly and often displays the wrong icons. The frame rate drops when there’s even a hint of a particle in the area, and it runs incredibly slowly in areas where there are lots of objects.
And then there are the game-ending bugs. I managed to crash, freeze, and soft-lock the game a dozen times, losing at least two hours of progress. In a game that only lasts about six hours, that’s a huge portion of time lost. The problems got more frequent as the game went on, with most of my issues occurring in the final few chapters. To put a cherry on top, the music cut out shortly before the ending. At first I thought it was a poignant silence, but it was still quiet while the credits rolled, which wasn’t supposed to happen.
You must first create the universe to play Genesis Noir
Genesis Noir is a fantastic experience when it works. The story, art style, and music all come together to make a beautiful symphony, and the themes are achingly resonant. There’s a chapter that takes place in 1930s New York City and also in the concept of vibration that literally had me in tears. However, I also became increasingly anxious of pressing the wrong buttons or viewing too many things for the game to handle, and I had to restart chapters far too often than is acceptable for a finished game.
If you like interesting experiences, beautiful stories, and powerful messages all wrapped up in a hot jazz soundtrack, you’ll love Genesis Noir. However, be aware that it will not be without frustration, especially until the developers release a performance patch for Switch.
A review code was provided by the publisher.