Game Jam Winner Spotlight: Rhythm Action Gatsby

from the gaming like it's 1925 dept

We’re nearing the end of our series of posts about the winners of our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It’s 1925. We’ve already featured ~THE GREAT GATSBY~, The Great Gatsby Tabletop Roleplaying Game, Art Apart and There Are No Eyes Here, and Remembering Grußau, and today we’re looking at the third and final game based on The Great Gatsby and the winner of the Best Digital Game category: Rhythm Action Gatsby by Robert Tyler.

From the name alone, you can probably guess what the game is: rhythm action games are a popular genre, and hey, why not make one for The Great Gatsby? The premise is presented as a joke, with the designer describing it as “the way F. Scott Fitzgerald would have wanted his legacy to be maintained” — but the game doesn’t just lean on this one bit of amusing silliness, nor does it cut any corners in fulfilling its promise. Rather, it’s full of handcrafted original material.

But before we get to all of that, there’s another thing that makes Rhythm Action Gatsby stand out among all the Gatsby-based games this year: it’s partly based on the book’s incredibly iconic cover art. (We wondered if the cover art was even itself in the public domain, but it turns out that unlike most books, that particular cover was actually designed before the writing was done and published along with the first edition, and has an interesting story all its own.) The floating eyes and mouth that almost everyone immediately associates with The Great Gatsby become the target points of the rhythm action game, controlled by the player as they gaze out from the screen. The eyes must be triggered in time with the sparkling fireworks that rise from below and represent the notes of the music, while the mouth must be controlled to speak the words that tumble down from above.

The words are a well-known passage from the novel, dramatically spaced out over the 2-minute duration of the game — and it’s all narrated aloud. That’s where we get to all the other original material in the game. The narration? Freshly recorded by the designer, with a distinct mood and excellent delivery. The jaunty music that sets the pace of the game? An original piece written and recorded by the designer. And then there’s all the details: the color changes and screen flashes that occur throughout the course of a playthrough, linked to both progression and the player’s performance. All of this is choreographed so well that when it comes together it makes a rhythm game that, although simple and short, feels surprisingly dramatic and narrative — and that’s not only impressive, it’s extremely appropriate to an adaptation of a novel, and proves that the initial joke about the combination of genre and subject being silly wasn’t quite what it seemed. That’s just great, and makes it a worthy winner of the Best Digital Game award.

(Oh, and at the end, your performance is ranked and you get to find out just how great of a Gatsby you are. Several of our judges played it multiple times to try for better results, and maybe you will too.)

Play Rhythm Action Gatsby in your browser on Itch, and check out the other jam entries too. Congratulations to Robert Tyler for the win! We’ll be back next week with the final game jam winner spotlight.

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