Despite the frustration, boredom and confusion it often caused, there’s still a nostalgia for the blinky, screechy flashes of data loading from tapes that’ll be familiar to anyone who grew up with computers in the 80s. Data on cassette tapes was stored as sound files on magnetic tape, laboriously and often unreliably loaded onto the computer, often taking many minutes before even the most basic games were ready to be played.

It’s that unreliability that’s at the heart of Tape Recovery Simulator 96k. Newly employed by an eccentric boss, your job is to learn how to search for faults on tapes, then recover lost data using simulated hardware and software via Windows on your actual computer’s desktop. Though the tutorial is long and in-depth, it’s actually really fascinating to play through as it teaches you the basics behind the tech that powered the ancient computers that used tape as their storage medium, as well as getting you used to interacting with your boss using a primitive faux email system.

It’s incredibly immersive and, thanks to the numerous clicky, clunky retro interfaces, it feels incredibly tactile and pleasing to manipulate. The game doesn’t hand hold, but gives you clues as to how to tune your equipment and search for errors, which makes it all the more satisfying when you figure out how to recover data on your own. I’m not sure how much it matches up with real data recovery, but with the in-built lessons on how everything works in terms of data, the game certainly feels as if it could be genuinely teaching the player data recovery skills.

It’s a very original game and one which lingers in the mind long after you’ve hit eject on that tape deck.

Indie dev Caffeine Withdrawal Games really seem to have crafted a deceptively deep, unusual and absorbing experience; this is one to watch when it launches on Steam Early Access in Q1 2022.

Many thanks to Caffeine Withdrawal Games for providing me with an Early Access key for Tape Recovery Simulator 96k for preview/review purposes.

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