Best Month Ever! pairs point-and-click mechanics with an uneven road trip narrative. Here’s our review…
Road trips are the perfect vehicle for a coming-of-age story, especially one that exposes the hidden underbelly of a society, pushing its fringe elements and miscreants to the surface. Best Month Ever! follows the traditions of this cinematic and literary genre, with a narrative-led tour of 1969 USA, taking in some of its saddest and seediest locales.
Behind the wheel is single mother Louise, accompanied by eight-year-old son Mitch. Louise has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and with time running short, she desperately wants to track down estranged relatives who might offer the boy a decent home. The journey sends them careening from scrape to crisis and asks you to make decisions that will affect how Mitch turns out in adult life.
The central characters are a resilient pairing, and Best Month Ever! makes the most of its premise when focused on their strained relationship, their bickering and bonding, and the shadow cast over both their lives by absent fathers. It also successfully balances the freedom of the road against the fear of the unknown, introducing a constant lurking danger from the start as Louise attempts to claim her final waitressing pay cheque from her vile boss. He kick-starts a simmering atmosphere of misogyny and racism (Mitch is mixed race) that frequently threatens to bubble over. Moments of trust and community are scant in comparison.
Sadly, however, many subsequent plot developments fall victim to stodgy pacing and blunt delivery. The impressionist landscape art style suggests that Best Month Ever! aims to provide brief snapshots of late-sixties life, but often the sketches feel void of context. Events of the time such as the Vietnam War and student protests are only mentioned in passing, followed by all too brief treatments of sexual abuse, Klan terrorism, and natural disasters. These are floating vignettes, isolated by a dearth of cultural signifiers, not least a soundtrack (surely a crucial part of any road story) that’s too tame to be evocative.
Similar can also be said of the interactive elements, which seem designed to keep you busy rather than pull you into the narrative. Your main duty is making dialogue choices that nudge three percentage measured stats up or down – righteousness, confidence, and human relations. Reach journey’s end and the final counts lead to one of nine different epilogues. It’s a decent-enough hook to make decisions worth pondering, but only on a first playthrough. Rewatching every scene slowly unfold a second or third time to alter a few variables isn’t an enticing prospect. Meanwhile, your other main form of involvement is very pedestrian, as you trot between highlighted hotspots, hampered by imprecise point-and-click controls.
Ultimately, it’s hard to ignore that games such as Kentucky Route Zero and Road 96 have already reimagined the redemptive road movie with striking narrative design and meaningful interactivity. Next to those, despite making a few promising inroads, Best Month Ever! chugs towards its destination.
Mitch’s coming-of-age experience is neatly expressed in a scene where Louise allows him to drive their Cadillac on the open road. Twitchy controls suitably emulate Mitch’s nerves as you try not to veer into the desert and cautiously overtake a couple of slow drivers. If only there were more hands-on sequences like this.