Games have always had a special knack for exploring difficult topics like death, loss, and mental health in unique ways. Hello Goodboy tackles the idea of handling death and negative emotions, albeit in a simplistic way, while accompanied by a cute dog who encourages you on a journey of self-discovery.
It’s a non-linear narrative adventure game that sees you as Iko, a young boy transported to the afterlife, called ‘Kuruto’, and guided by a friendly dog companion called Coco. Coco repeatedly reminds you that all you must do along the way is be a ‘good kid’, although it’s entirely up to you what actions you take in-game. Iko and Coco set out on an adventure through each season to learn why Iko is in Kuruto, and to find out what comes next. However, time is short, and you must choose where to spend these fleeting moments before the journey comes to an end.
Hello Goodboy manages to traverse its subject matter in a lighthearted manner, but at times comes off as heavy-handed in its delivery. Iko and Coco find traces of black sludge left by a creature referred to as the Black Dog, which causes extreme discomfort until things are put back to how they should be. The metaphors and analogies used are clear as day, and while they manage to get the message across, it does leave you wanting for a bit more in the way of nuance.
Despite their simplicity however, the key messages from the story are overwhelmingly positive and helpful – you’re presented with the option to help all of the adorable characters you meet along your journey, and paying it forward with kindness does present its own payoffs. All the while, Coco is there to keep you company and guide you through this new world, answering all of your questions, and ready for a hug should you need reassurance.
While you aren’t rushed along as you explore the world, the Magical Hourglass you carry is finite. You’re given four opportunities per playthrough to make Major Decisions, and each of the worlds behind the four doors (themed after each season of the year) takes two decisions to complete. As a result, you can only complete half of the worlds during each playthrough before you and Coco have to move on.
It’s an interesting choice that feel slightly unsatisfying, however, it’s made clear that to grasp the full story, you need to play through the game multiple times. The Hourglass and the limited actions that can be taken each time work well in reaffirming the overall theme of saying goodbye however, even when you don’t feel ready to, or you have unfinished business.
All of the characters Iko encounters along the way in Hello Goodboy are struggling with an issue that you have the opportunity to remedy with Coco’s help. Some solutions are easy, with simple puzzles or ‘fix-it’ tasks, while some intertwine with other characters and their problems. The tasks you’re given are almost all optional, and some do become repetitive – especially those that ask you to fix broken pieces in the world – but often carry a sweet message behind them that Coco is all too eager to tell you after the fact.
In one section, you need to clear a large pile of branches to progress. Once done, a smaller pile is left, which you can leave behind, but should you clear these away too Coco reminds you that even though an issue may be small and dealing with it tedious, solving it can help you to move on much more easily.
It’s pretty clear that each of these lessons alludes to some facet of dealing with trauma, grief, and negative emotions, and despite being as subtle as a brick, it’s a nice sentiment all the same.
Each of the major solutions in Hello Goodboy doubles back to an ongoing thread of shared quality time with others, with the memories and new friends Iko and Coco make along the way playing an important part in the final moments of their adventure. With each solution and door chosen, you’re eventually given a brief look into what appears to be Iko’s life prior to entering Kuruto. As one of the few parts of the story that is more suggestive than laid out clearly, it does help to add some extra dimension to the game and reinforce the purpose of your journey.
While Hello Goodboy presents vibrant art and beautifully crafted worlds throughout, the final obstacle Iko and Coco must overcome is a bit of a let-down, both visually and mechanically. Its heart seems to be in the right place – a message of remembering the good in order to defeat the negative emotions you feel, and asking for help when you need it – but it doesn’t feel particularly satisfying. However, the ultimate ending is a heartfelt one, and clarifies some of the unanswered questions about why Iko is in Kuruto in the first place, and how sometimes, you need to say goodbye to move forward.
Overall, Hello Goodboy does what it says in the description – provide a meaningful and wholesome exploration into life after death, kindness and connection. As Iko learns to do good deeds simply for the joy of it and to tackle his emotions in healthy, constructive ways, so too do you.
Iko must ultimately say goodbye to Coco and his new friends, perhaps before he’s really ready to – and that’s okay, because he can always look back on the memories he made with them if he ever feels hopeless or lonely. While it seems like the game is geared more towards younger players making their first foray into some difficult topics, it’s still an overall enjoyable venture into a world that feels like a warm hug of reassurance.
Three Stars: ★★★
The PC version of Hello Goodboy was provided and played for the purposes of this review.