I’m always on the hunt for good games for my Switch, and on the face of it, Mainlining comes across as the perfect game for me. Point and click, detective, hacking, retro styled, all sounds tip top to me. I couldn’t really think of any reason that would keep me from playing it, especially as the Steam release had seemingly passed me by, so, into the cyber-crime world I plunged.
Diving straight in, the cases in Mainlining are extremely well written and fun. They make you think a lot, and at times you may think that you’ve lost your mind, but you just have to look a little further to find the strands of information required to solve the case. There are a lot of red herrings thrown around as well, so even when you think you’ve found a good lead, you may be wasting time by going down an alley that has no reward at the end of it. Actually solving a case requires three things – a person of interest, their location and the evidence for the crime they committed. If you manage to get all three of these, you’ll be able to give them a new pair of bracelets and send them off to the big house. And in doing so, you’ll get an immense sense of satisfaction, as putting them away usually takes a good amount of wits and determination.
Tacking onto that, and it’s only a small point, but the conversations you have with your colleagues also tend to be rather funny as well. There were quite a few times that made me chuckle, particularly when conversing with colleagues in the bar on the left of the screen. Every time there was a bit of progression in the main story, you’d pipe up on the chat channel and your colleagues would pipe up too, trying to make funny quips to ease your day. Or to take the piss out of you, one or the other.
I wouldn’t be a good reviewer if I didn’t comment on the art style as well. It won’t come as a surprise to regular readers that I love retro-styled games, and Mainlining is one, and it’s fantastic. It remains detailed, but pixellated and glorious. It’s all bright and colourful as well, there isn’t any semblance of sadness, all you’ll find are some absolutely fantastically drawn parts of the game.
The problem I had with Mainlining, is that I was reviewing the Nintendo Switch version of the game. It’s terrific for all of the reasons I listed above, but on the Switch at least, there is one humongous area on which it falls down: usability. So, first on the list of poor usability is the lack of a real tutorial. There’s nothing that tells you what buttons to use, and while a lot of them do behave as you may expect, occasionally they’ll stop working. Then you’ll be wondering why. Then you’ll press other buttons, which will exit your screen and you’ll lose all your progress.
You’re probably thinking “that’s oddly specific”, and before you ask, yes. That did happen to me. Multiple times. A large part of Mainlining is typing on a keyboard, which is provided for you once you press the keyboard button on the right of the screen. It’ll appear as a scythed in half keyboard that you can move where-ever you please. That sounds useful, but in reality, it’s pretty awkward to manoeuvre around and covers large parts of the screen and dominates focus so you can’t do anything while the keyboard is up, aside from typing. Also, the enter key. It works around a quarter of the time and functions as you’d expect it to. The rest of the time, it does absolutely nothing. Then you try the A key, which also has a success rate of around 20-25%. So then I spent the rest of the time trying to figure out how to commit the command on my console. Just as I was about to give up, after a good couple of hours, I hit the + button on the Switch. That button, which is usually reserved for the pause menu, is the commit button on the game, which baffles me still. It’s so difficult to get to, and it’s weird, and very poor design.
The Final Word
There is a great game to be found within Mainlining. The detective part is brilliant, the graphics are great and the humour is pretty decent in it too. The issue is, it is not made for the Switch, and plays extremely poorly. The keyboard is dodgy at best, and it’s never really made very clear what buttons do what. With all the issues I faced, I just can’t recommend it on any level. It’d probably be great on PC, but as a Switch game, definitely avoid it.