Teen dramas are all the rage, but society is running out of ideas. How many ways can you spin the same coming of age story? Developer KO_OP has risen to that challenge with its upcoming narrative rhythm game, Goodbye Volcano High, by daring to make something new: a high school dinosaur simulator.
Goodbye Volcano High ditches your regular old mammals and instead focuses on teenage dinosaurs on the brink of extinction. Fang, a senior with lofty dreams of becoming a musician, has one year to live out their dreams before a meteor threatens life as they knows it. It’s up to the player to choose how they live their last year of high school, whether its smooching their friends or rocking out.
As an absolute fiend for young adult stories, I’m ready to see its story all the way through based on a demo I played at PAX East. It’s a narrative experience that explores growing pains in a unique circumstance that teenage dramas typically steer clear of: the Big Bang. However, limited dialogue options and an iffy rhythm component have me feeling like I’ll have more fun watching than playing it.
Goodbye Volcano High has two main components to its gameplay: decision-making and rhythm game interludes. Any choices you make can impact its ending, according to KO_OP. Later chapters force the player to choose between focusing on Fang’s band, her friends, and other priorities.
Adding a musical element to the game makes sense because of how important Fang’s music is to them. However, Goodbye Volcano High‘s current iteration of the minigame doesn’t quite feel intuitive yet. Many successful rhythm games (or mini-games in existing products) involve pressing buttons at the right times, like in Guitar Hero, simulating beats and rhythms. Most of the satisfaction comes from pressing the keys on beat, to the point that you can listen to the song for the cues without looking at the screen if you’re really locked into the music.
Unfortunately, the controls didn’t quite come together for me during my hands-on time. Musical segments prompted me to hold the control stick in different directions based on clear visual cues, but I needed to time my inputs slightly ahead of when the prompt would actually appear because of lag (it’s unclear if that was an issue with the way the demo was set up or a timing quirk in the game). Some prompts involved timing control stick inputs and button presses at the same time, which felt like the gameplay version of patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.
Despite some issues with its controls, the bits of story I saw signaled a promising teen drama. I could believe Goodbye Volcano High would be a Netflix animated series if it weren’t a video game. That’s where I’m left wondering about the final product and how much interactivity makes a difference in the final experience.
KO_OP describes its game as a “playable cartoon” or “interactive movie,” which it pulls off with its fluid, hand-drawn animations and evocative voice acting. Though there was some inconsistency in the acting during my demo, the talent in Goodbye Volcano High adds depth to the characters down to the tone of voice and cadence in their speaking patterns — like the way actual teenagers would talk to each other rather than a rushed voice-over.
I’ll give Goodbye Volcano High the benefit of the doubt on its limited dialogue options, as the demo didn’t progress far enough to lean toward a particular ending. I didn’t even get to the realization that the world was ending, only learning that it’s Fang’s last year of high school and they submitted a song for Battle of the Bands that clashed with their band’s original vision. As seen in the trailer, the stakes will eventually rise higher than the lighthearted demo lets on. Though I’m not sure how I’ll feel about it as a video game, that story tease still has me eager to see how it all unfolds. I’m willing to see Fang’s story through to the end (of the world).