Henchman Story starts off with a full-throttle goofy tone, and at first I thought I was in for a standard superhero story — just from a slightly different point of view. I play Stan, a goon who works for an over the top, bombastic supervillain. I’m bored but content, and the benefits are too good to quit despite the occasional beating from a hero. But then a new venture capitalist joins the team, and things get much more interesting. While Henchman Story is an interactive tale about superheroes, it’s also a story about living in a world where superheroes haven’t stopped capitalism from running amok. It’s a simple ride made more interesting by the cast of characters and the compelling core conflict.
Henchman Story is a visual novel, so the gameplay comes down to making choices in dialogue trees. While these choices start small — am I nice to my obnoxious supervisor, or do I snidely dunk on the dude? — they ramp up as the story goes on. Eventually, I have to make big choices on whether to betray a friend, overthrow a boss, or relentlessly pursue my own self-interests.
Stan lives on a supervillain base, where he receives meals, shelter, and benefits. He’s just a cog in a corporate system, and the stresses of day-to-day worker life are amplified a thousandfold — he works for a supervillain, after all. Stan starts as a henchman under the employ of a silly, scene-chewing bad guy called Lord Bedlam, but a new executive coming aboard complicates things quickly. Madame Scorpion is an assassin with a suite of mysterious powers, and she’s oddly interested in Stan. That fixation causes problems in the rest of his life, which I have to either roll with or desperately try to repair.
Player choices become less about whether Stan is a good or bad person — in fact, Henchman Story doesn’t seem interested in “bad” people. Bedlam’s a supervillain who loves chaos and despair, but the narrative doesn’t linger long on him. Instead, it’s much more interested in questions of self-interest and survival. It’s easy to answer a moral question of whether I should be a good or bad person in a vacuum. But what about when the entire system someone lives in is designed to reward them for being bad? We’ve all seen the movies with Iron Man or read about the villainy of Doctor Doom — but what about the people who work for them, who are just there to get a paycheck?
As Henchman Story works its way toward its climax, developer Silken Sail Entertainment both gives you lots of rewards for being bad — and lots of chances to back away and turn to the side of good. One of the most powerful tools the narrative leverages against players on the good path is the simple question of survival. Can I afford another gig? In this economy?
It’s an interesting take on a well-worn genre, and while parts of it are hammy or predictable, the core choices remain compelling. Henchman Story is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch. The game is set to be released through the Epic Games Store on Feb. 17.