Considering that it’s December, which is normally my month of absolutely nothing going according to plan, I really went hard on this month’s Community Game-Along theme. However, as the latter half of the month was pretty scattered, what with all the holiday shenanigans taking up a good chunk of time, I managed to play more games than I got around to writing about.
Earlier in the month, I posted some Quick Looks at The Good Life, Spellcaster University, and Planet Zoo. Since then, I have put some time into three more Sim games, so this is going to be a three-in-one quick look to talk about each of those a little bit.
I feel like it makes sense to combine these three particular games because they all fall into that subset of simulation gaming – Chore Simulators.
Hours Played: Just shy of 12.
House Flipper has been on my wish list for quite awhile, and is the main reason I didn’t pause November’s Humble Choice. The game starts you with some small repairs and renovations, and as you make money, you can use that buy houses. Then you can completely renovate those houses to your taste before “flipping” them, but if you’re trying to appeal to specific clients for the purpose of completing achievements, you’ll have to pay close attention to what they want. When you auction a property, it always goes to the highest bidder, so if you’re a completionist, that’s a lot of customers you have to cater to.
However, I found the that deeper I got into the game, the less fun I was having. I liked the quicker jobs missions, and eventually, there aren’t any more. I really liked all the mechanics of cleaning, repairing, and painting, but I hated picking out and placing furniture. In a last ditch attempt to bring back the magic, I picked up the Garden Flipper DLC.
This had precisely the opposite effect. I appreciated (finally) being able to mow the unruly lawns, but almost every other mechanic was either tedious or annoying. I didn’t like planting, I hated gravel, and I basically stopped weeding once I realized the lawnmower could handle almost all of them.
I did like the skill unlocks and that they were related to how much of a specific sort of work you had done. There’s a good sense of progression, but once the jobs dry up, and you’ve acquired all the skills, I couldn’t find much reason to keep playing. That said, a dozen hours isn’t terrible even if I never revisit it – which I probably will.
Hours Played: Just under two.
Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage is a Christmas-themed DLC level for Viscera Cleanup Detail, which is usually about cleaning up after alien and monster attacks.
However, in this festive level, you’re cleaning up Santa’s workshop after he finally snaps. There are so many dead elves, but there are also a lot of really clever bits of not-so-hidden story here.
Unlike a lot of chore simulators, this one is heavily physics influenced, so you actually have to think about how you move, and where you hold objects you’re carrying. Most items are disposed of by throwing them in the fire, but if you accidentally (or not so accidentally) toss something explosive in one of those boxes, the consequences can be pretty serious (and also pretty gross). If you bump into a mop bucket, you will spill it, and if you drop some … biological waste … it’s going to splatter.
Viscera Cleanup Detail is a game that I wander back to every now and then, and although I enjoy my actual playtime, I almost always walk away unsatisfied. No matter how well I think I did, I always seem to miss enough to have a poor performance review. That said, this might be a new holiday tradition for me, so I’ll likely be back at it next December.
Power Wash Simulator
Hours Played: Over fifteen with no sign of slowing down.
True confession – I had Power Was Simulator on my wish list figuring I’d pick it up when it drops to bargain bin prices because I didn’t see the allure, but so many people who I generally think of as having good taste have been raving about it.
And thus, one of my friends who likes to play Steam Sale Santa with me nabbed it for me for Christmas. I wanted to try it right away, because if I really hated it, I didn’t want to waste someone else’s money and I knew I could return it.
… I have barely touched another game since Christmas Day.
Now Naithan (another person who I think of as having generally good taste), liked House Flipper more than I did, and Power Wash Simulator considerably less. It’s imminently logical – out of all the chore sims I dipped into over the past couple of weeks, it has the least interesting premise on paper.
Over the last couple of days, I have really gotten sort of introspective about why this one is proving more satisfying and having more staying power than the others, and I’ve pinpointed a few things that are really working for me (and as always, your mileage may vary with these points).
First & foremost, I adore the sound of this game. You might be expecting some happy little tunes, but what you actually get is a little bit of ambient noise appropriate to the location where you’re working, and a whole bunch of glorious water sounds. There’s a reason that you can buy a lot of different recordings of moving water in all its forms – moving water is a very relaxing sound. Once I put my headset on and turn the volume up, the chaos of everything else just disappears in the soothing sounds of flowing water.
(For those who aren’t as big of a fan, there are no critical sound cues that make listening to your own music, a podcast, or an audio book a poor choice.)
Secondly, watching things go from dirty to clean in a predictable manner (and without all the accompanying aches and pains that deep cleaning brings in my actual life) is super satisfying. I do admit the basic tools you start with make things a little tedious, and two of the spray heads are borderline useless no matter how good your equipment is unless you like washing the same area four or five times, but it isn’t long before you can be buying equipment and upgrades that improve the experience quite a bit. I tackled the first few scenarios kind of willynilly, but I have now fallen into a comfortable process for tackling different sorts of jobs.
This has had the bonus effect of greatly decreasing how much time I have to spend on a 99% clean level looking for the last few spots of dirt I’ve missed. I did really appreciate the less-than-1-percent leeway you get on each individual item requiring cleaning, because you cannot end a job prematurely – you’re there until every tiny item has been checked off your list.
Which brings me to the last thing that makes Power Wash Simulator work for me – you have a discrete set of tasks that must be completed. You can choose which nozzle to use, whether or not to use soap, and the order in which you choose to clean, but you need to clean it all, and you need to clean it well. There is no real lose condition. You’re not timed. You won’t be penalized with dripping filthy water if you choose to clean the roof last instead of first. You can hit TAB at any point and the game will show you all the dirt remaining on the level. There is no question of being able to complete the task you’ve begun.
And maybe this is a result of being someone who’s been living with a chronic illness for awhile, but knowing that I absolutely can finish the thing I have started, even if I have to walk away 20 times, even if I only have five minutes to wash something, is incredibly fulfilling. Even if it is just fake chores in a video game.
… did I mention you can save at any time? I love games where you can save at any time.
I find that I don’t want to play for more than an hour or two at a time – which isn’t anywhere near enough time to complete some of the levels – but I also find myself dipping in an out whenever I have a few minutes throughout the day. I can make meaningful progress, whether I have five minutes or fifty.
Now, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the concept, I realize that I’m a lot closer to the target market for this game than probably most gamers, so I’m not sure I’m the best person to explain why this weird little game is appealing to so many people. What I can say is that it’s a pretty excellent example of it’s genre, not overly bloated, with upgrades having significant benefit, but almost never feeling mandatory, so there’s no hard punishment for choosing a “sub-optimal” upgrade path.