The early days of the internet were nothing like the online world we regularly inhabit today. This huge new innovation of technology had no boundaries, and although it seemed there was an infinite amount of content to explore, finding it was another matter entirely. I was very young in these pioneering moments of the world wide web, and couldn’t spend hours browsing its often garish pages in case we missed a phone call. If Geocities was your home in the 90s then Hypnospace Outlaw will be a real nostalgia trip, and if not you’re in for a wild ride.
In the alternate history 1999 of Hypnospace Outlaw, the internet is explored by strapping a headband on and browsing its various pages. As an enforcer hired by the creators of this new phenomenon, you’re tasked with finding and reporting illicit online content in exchange for the digital currency of HypnoCoins. To crack down on copyright, currency scammers, and bullies, you’ll search hundreds of webpages across all corners of HypnoSpace, from the angsty pages of Teentopia to the custom eCards of a devout Christian.
You aren’t just thrown into this bizarre snapshot of the 90s unprepared, and after you’ve attended a virtual class on HypnoSpace law you’ll get access to your Enforcer email account. There you’ll be sent cases that need investigating and messages from all manner of other HypnoSpace users. Once you know what crimes are being committed, it’s up to you to search some keywords and user names to find the culprits.
It doesn’t take long to realise that your role as an Enforcer isn’t necessarily a force of good. Your first task as sees you scouring the web for unofficial artwork of popular 1960s cartoon character Gumshoe Gooper, and a bit of keyword scouring soon leads you to a page of children’s drawings of the popular fish detective. After a few swings of the ban hammer, the page of delightful art is practically empty – and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d destroyed something special. This was made even worse by the status update of the page owner, who was angry and upset about my immoral actions. All the HypnoCoins in the world didn’t stop me from feeling genuinely guilty.
Fortunately, not every case you’re given sees you destroying the hopes and dreams of kids. Stomping out cyberbullying definitely feels less morally reprehensible, especially when you shut down a comic making fun of an overweight child. Finding these acts of inhumanity is easier said than done, though: you’ll need to scour pages for more information about their creator and bounce about HypnoSpace looking for unlisted pages and potential passwords. It can be frustrating when you hit a brick wall and don’t know where to look next, but if you look through the pages and keywords you know are connected to the case you’ll find the crimes you’re looking for eventually. It’s hugely rewarding when all your notes finally lead you to the culprit of the cyber crimes, too, as the game never holds your hand to get you there.
Some of the webpages you come across in your journey through HypnoSpace are just wild. The trippy colour schemes, bright backgrounds, and bizarre fonts just scream 90s and finding relics of the internet’s past like joke pages and under construction signs filled me with nostalgia for a time I didn’t know I missed. Even the negatives of early Internet browsing like pop-up viruses and slow load times are a part of the Hypnospace Outlaw experience, and I loved every second of it. You can spend hours (and I did) just browsing this time capsule to a world long lost, completely forgetting the fact that you have a goal of policing this Wild West of information to fill your pockets.
The online currency of HypnoCoins is generally spent on entirely unnecessary but delightful extras for your desktop. I immediately saved up to buy a virtual hamster that proceeded to defecate all over my screen and drain me of money for food, but you can also buy music to play on your WinAmp style player, screensavers, and wallpapers to make your desktop feel entirely your own.
Hypnospace Outlaw translates surprisingly well to the Switch from the PC. Using the touchscreen to click and type is a more than adequate replacement for a mouse and keyboard, although I wouldn’t necessarily recommend playing on the TV, as using the JoyCons to navigate the Web is much less intuitive and takes much longer.
Hypnospace Outlaw is a game like nothing I’ve ever played, packed full of 90s internet nostalgia. The sheer amount of effort that’s gone into crafting hundreds of fictional webpages is simply astounding, and the heaps of character packed within them is incredible. Some pages caused me to laugh out loud, and some that I needed to censor filled me with guilt. The puzzle and investigation gameplay is really satisfying when you finally have a breakthrough, although occasionally frustrating when you don’t. I strongly believe that Hypnospace Outlaw is a game that everyone should play,
An incredible time capsule of the 90s Internet
Investigating cases is very satisfying
Genuinely emotional moments
Customising your retro desktop is great
Translates well to the Switch thanks to touch controls
Occasionally frustrating when you can't find a solution
TV mode doesn't control well