Living in a small town can feel restrictive, particularly if you’re considered an outsider. This is the premise of Small Town Emo, a Gameboy game (which really can be played on an actual Gameboy device).
Set in the year 2007 on the weekend before Halloween, Small Town Emo follows the story of Ken, a 17-year-old emo kid with a crush on his goofy, golden retriever-esque best friend; Fergus.
The two of them couldn’t be less alike, with Ken being a grumpy know-it-all teen who enjoys his own company, music, and video games. Fergus on the other hand is larger than life itself, extremely extroverted and often pulls Ken into some good-natured trouble. It all feels very Heartstopper at times, and that’s a compliment to Small Town Emo’s simple, but wholesome story.
Currently the game is only available as a demo, but what I played I enjoyed immensely. Taking the role of Ken, and thus being the one who is all too aware of their big crush on their best friend Fergus, really thrusts you into the heart of the problem: being an outsider in a small village in 2007. Ken already has trouble due to being emo, a fashion style that many back then (and even now) considered to be feminine and queer in nature. Emo girls were one thing, but being emo as a guy felt as though you were loudly proclaiming you were, in fact, gay as hell – even if that wasn’t the case at all.
In Small Town Emo, Ken is already established as different from his style, so his crush on Fergus is something that brings up more anxiety about himself. He’s only a teenager, and being considered feminine and gay in a small town comes with its own worries. Thankfully, due to the game’s more cutesy and campy tone, Small Town Emo doesn’t overtly rely on the angst factor. We want Ken to confess to Fergus, and as we see them interact and plan to go to a costume party together, we desperately want them to have a happy ending.
Outside of the budding love story between the two teens, the best thing about Small Town Emo is the nostalgia factor it brings along for the ride. There are mini-games that will make you almost fond of your old Nokia’s Snakes game and strikingly familiar collectible memes. Most importantly, though: MSN Messenger makes a return, right along with questionable emojis and usernames. It’s a step into the past, and while I’m always wary not to wear my nostalgia goggles 24/7, the setting makes Small Town Emo a game to remember.
You can play Small Town Emo (demo only) over on itch.io.