REVIEW: ‘Mainlining’ is an Incredible and Immersive Experience (Switch)

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Mainlining, a new Nintendo Switch ported game from Merge Games and Sam Read at Rebel Elephant Studios, comes at an incredibly important juncture in our culture. The internet was created to bring the world together. As the internet has grown, this purpose has greatly expanded to include all sorts of communication methods, from internet radios, podcasts, video calls, and even streaming. As this purpose grew, so did the opportunities for those with hostile intent.

The internet became a new tool to expand criminality. As we move into the future, it has become apparent that internet security and cyber warfare are paramount to safety. Peering into the world of cybersecurity and hacking, Mainlining players are put into an intellectual investigative journey that may be the most important release on the Nintendo Switch, so long as players are willing to learn and discipline themselves in this incredibly immersive hacking adventure.

Mainlining is an interactive point-and-click adventure, with hacking and puzzle-solving mechanics, presented in a retro-pixelated art form. The setting of the game is the year is 2010. With the increase in social media, smartphones, and even wi-fi hotspots, information is spreading further and faster, including our most sensitive data. For the governments of the world, sensitive data, which includes top-secret files and classified intelligence, is now more vulnerable than ever before. As a new member of MI-7, you begin your day at the worst possible time.

MI-7 has been hit with a significant breach of security. While all the systems have been repaired and restored, the hunt is on to discover who and why they breached the network. As an intelligence agency, MI-7 operates with a higher level of urgency and swiftness, with the latest technology in surveillance and hacking countermeasures. As an agent, your mission is to use these tools to protect the state and the public.

In Mainlining, players are tasked with investigating various cases happening throughout the country, from drug trafficking to security breaches. Mainlining presents itself as a near-identical version of Windows 2000, complete with the “start” menu and general user-interface. In the simplest terms, this game looks and sounds like an actual Windows desktop, complete with a chime upon boot-up. The pixelation of Mainlining is reminiscent of earlier point-and-click titles, as well as text-based adventures that were prominent on computers during the 80’s and 90’s.

Using this fictional interpretation of windows players surf the web and use software, for things like geolocation and surveillance. The biggest hook of the game is a utility called the mainlining, the game’s namesake. As you access mainline screen you input commands. Fortunately, players do not have to input any advanced commands using actual scripting languages. Instead, the player inputs simple text-based words that will allow the players to perform special tasks, such as accessing files on another person’s computer.

For example, players can input the “ping” command to gain the IP address of a certain machine. Then, they can put the “iphack” command to hack and gain access to a suspect’s computer. From there, they may download files, obtain photos, read through potentially incriminating documents, and even investigate emails. Performing this task thoroughly is absolutely essential.

Each case you take on hinges on three pieces: identity, location, and the irrefutable piece of evidence that proves the malicious activity took place. Once those three pieces are in place, you can make an arrest and the case is solved. However, despite the far-reaching surveillance of the agency, it is possible to make the wrong arrest and fail a particular case. The agency has been granted special powers but must abide by the rules, laws, and regulations implemented for their use.

The biggest issue in Mainlining is that there is a learning curve for both its controls and gameplay. The game, which originally launched on Steam, has made its way to Nintendo Switch, with a bespoke keyboard and touch-screen commands. Mainlining is designed to be played in the undocked mode for the best results. These implementations are commendable and not easy, especially as the original game had the benefit of using a keyboard and mouse.

With the Nintendo Switch port, the bespoke keyboard and touchscreen controls work well, but players will need to adjust to the controls. For example, the “plus” button, often used for pausing a game, is the computers “enter” command. Using the touchscreen and analog stick as a mouse cursor takes some getting used to. Even the game will “slow-down” if there are too many windows open. That said, the curve isn’t anything demanding or overwhelming.


Mainlining is a very different kind of game, especially the first 20 minutes or so, I was frustrated, but also determined to continue learning the game and how it handled. After looking at the controls thoroughly, and understanding the various systems in place, I found myself enjoying the game. Following the learning curve, Mainlining grabbed my attention like a hawk’s talons grabbing its prey. I truly felt like a digital investigation, searching and researching various pieces of information and data to achieve the desired result.

Everything from researching bank accounts to investigating a person’s favorite coffee bean brings a strong sense of immersion, authenticity, and keen sensations of detective work. Mainlining isn’t a training simulator to join an intelligence agency, but it certainly gives you the sensation of being a secret intelligence agent. The game’s presentation, from the retro presentation to the music, sound effects, and even the takes on the internet-infused world of 2010 are all incredibly witty. Each case was completely different, presenting something entirely new as the game continued. With the game’s immersion, I couldn’t help but work hard to complete my case. I never wanted to give up or end my game until the case was solved.  Having played similar games in the genre, it was spectacular to see something so familiar, yet so wildly different. Mainlining presents a fictional adventure in an authentic and believable setting. In this current climate in video games, that is commendable.

Mainlining also brings about intellectual questions about surveillance, information, censorship, and the lines that have been both drawn and blurred in the fields of cyber warfare and cybersecurity. There is the side of protection, safety, and maintaining order, which performs a judicious job in keeping the citizens safe from violence, drugs, tracking, and so on. However, there is always the question of should an intelligence agency wield this much power, and should this technology be available in the hands of the very few.

Should this power be stripped and these agencies dismantled, who will be there to protect the system? What happens when this power is exploited, overstepped, and abused? Is there any accountability? Will the world of cyberspace grow worse as more information is made available or will the world become better as we grasp with the world of digital information?  Should this power be appreciated? Just because you have the power to look into another’s machine, should you? These are questions Mainlining asks but allows the players to determine an answer for themselves. The game also adopts a much more light-hearted tone in this particular subject, with its colorful illustrations and it takes on businesses, such as Starbucks, and even piracy sites, like The Pirates’ Cove.

Mainlining is an acquired experienced. There may be players that may be initially discouraged, but I’d highly recommend this game and suggest it for any players to take the time to learn, and to play this remarkable game. Mainlining is a game with striking cultural relevance and a perspective of how we as humans have shaped cyberspace and how it has shaped us. It is also a reminder of what we can do now and what we should be aware of in the future.

As a game, Mainlining does an excellent job in immersive the player in investigating work and having them feel part of a special task force.  The detective work is thrilling, and the characters, from the fellow agents to the suspects, are authentic and interesting. Mainlining is an interactive point-and-click adventure unlike any other. It’s the game we need in today’s world, and perhaps the most important release of 2019. Mainlining is available on the Nintendo Switch, and Steam.

  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10


Mainlining does an excellent job in immersive the player in investigating work, and having them feel part of a special task force.  The detective work is thrilling, and the characters, from the fellow agents to the suspects, are authentic and interesting.