Most of us know Hamlet pretty well at this point, right? Y’know, tragic mess of a Dane who goes on a bit of a murder spree instead of communicating like a normal human being? That Shakespeare thing?
But even if you know Hamlet well (or maybe because you do!), To Be or Not To Be is nothing you’re prepared for, and everything worth checking out where this classic is concerned.
Also, it’s even more of a hot mess than the original, and in the BEST way, so what are you waiting for?
There are a lot of things about To Be or Not To Be that bring joy, but the main thing you need to know before you start is that this is a Choose Your Own Adventure style game! You can go the traditional route, following Hamlet’s canon footsteps, but there are other routes to take. For one, you can play Hamlet and do things your way, instead of by the bard’s book. Or, you can play as Ophelia and set this whole mess to rights in a far more sensible manner (or make it worse, your call). Or maybe you want to live that ghost afterlife, so you choose Hamlet’s dad and get his side of the story. Whichever character’s shoes you start in though, every path has a flurry of options that lead to all kinds of unusual outcomes!
The sheer variety of outcomes, is, I think, the game’s greatest strength. The obvious route, the one that follows the play as we know it, is only one of many, MANY paths you can go down, and there’s a joy in changing the way the story ends. Maybe everyone died anyway, but at least you got in a TRAINING MONTAGE (please read that in your best movie trailer voice), or you forced Claudius to admit to his crimes through a convoluted CYOA within a CYOA. Or maybe you actually did something right without burning Denmark entirely to the ground, so go you! Personally, I’m a big fan of the fact that Ophelia doesn’t have to die in this because Hamlet’s being unreasonable. I’m actually an even bigger fan of the fact that you can spin it so that Hamlet and Ophelia are in on the plot to kill Claudius TOGETHER. Double trouble of the best kind.
But another huge plus is the artistic effort behind the game! Not only does it look really good, with an easy to understand interface and fun bits of art interspersed throughout, but there is an entire achievements system featuring the art of SO MANY ARTISTS. I’m pretty sure I recognized the styles of Noelle Stevenson (yes, the She-Ra showrunner!) and Kate Leth, among so many others, and it brings a kind of reckless charm to the story to have their work pop up when you unlock something new.
That achievement system is fun, too! It encourages you to pick paths you wouldn’t normally choose, and leads to truly bizarre outcomes that add layer after layer of whimsy and joy to the game. Admittedly, if you’re achievement hunting, it can get a little bit repetitive (even with checkpoints in the story, you still have to replay choices until you reach the branch you want to split from in search of a new outcome), but if you play it every now and again rather than every day, the risk of burnout is low and the rewards are silly and entertaining without necessarily being high.
Overall, it’s a low stakes, goofy approach to an incredibly famous work, and I think it has a lot of appeal, whether you’re a huge Shakespeare fan or you’re not really into the bard and his plays. You could kill time in twenty minute bursts or an hour long marathon with this game, and if nothing else, I think you’ll have fun, which is always an important part of playing a game.
And if you’re worried about how to get it, fear not! To Be or Not To Be is available through Steam, the App Store, Google Play, and even as A BOOK. For more details (and the creators’ own words on what’s in their game), you can check out the To Be or Not To Be site.
Go forth, friends, be Hamlet, and make an absolute mess. It’s what Shakespeare would have wanted.