“MENU NEW GAME+” by Steven Sych & Mt. Garnet.

“[A] series of menus for games that do not exist.”

Game menus are underrated. They are essential to guiding us through our gaming experiences, but also nearly invisible when they are at their best. We always notice a bad menu, but a good one? Those are never really seen. But with “MENU NEW GAME+”, there is now a game that asks us to take a closer look at such things. This project presents the menus of four fictional games: “Empires of Idleness”, a 4X strategy title that does the opposite of the genre’s usual trappings, “8 Tons of Oxygen”, a game with a science fiction setting and tons of levels, “JITTERBUG”, a hex code game from 1991, and “Peon Caravan”, a “Dwarf Fortress” or “RimWorld” clone containing several patches.

It certainly is an interesting experiment. The developer of “MENU NEW GAME+” calls his creation “interactive, magical realist fiction” and that is a fitting description. We as players look at the menus of games that do not exist, and because of that, we are forced to ask ourselves about the purpose of game menus, level selection screens, patch notes, and many more often overlooked elements.

I loved how “MENU NEW GAME+” explores different genres and times in history, such as its MS-DOS-esque “JITTERBUG” or the modern “Empires of Idleness”. Personally, my favorite part were all the randomly generated patch notes in “Peon Caravan”, seeing the history of a game presented in its updates. It is fantastic how so much ground gets covered in so little time; I really admire its ambition.

However, at the same time, this experiment fell short in some areas for me – specifically, with “8 Tons of Oxygen”. This menu’s stated goal is to “[ask] whether or not it is possible to experience the entire story of a game simply through a level selection screen.” While I felt it partially succeeded, the level names were so vague that it was hard to tell what story is being told. Maybe this is intentional, and the game is asking us to use our imagination to find the story. Still, this particular menu was not fulfilling my personal expectations.

Regardless, I greatly enjoyed “MENU NEW GAME+”. It is an ambitious project with lots to say about how we see video games, and the parts of them that players – often subconsciously – take advantage of. And since it is an alpha release, there are even more menus to come, which is excellent. [PLAY]