Quick Look – Melodramatica (#JustOnePercent 54/100)

Developer: Team Actors
Release Date: June 24, 2021
MSRP: Free

Video games are a medium where core concepts are constantly being rehashed, reworked, and having a new coat of paint put on. It’s rare – at least for me – to see something these days and think “Wow, that’s a really unique idea!” when looking at the idea of the game and not just the implementation. Melodramatica takes management gaming fans to a place they’ve probably never been – behind the scenes of a Victorian-era theater.

The game shines in premise and aesthetic, but seems to suffer from a bit of stage fright when it comes to the actual game play of it all. On my first pass, I missed several key mechanics by following the tutorial too closely – there are additional tutorial elements that only trigger when you enter specific areas of the theater, but nothing ever directs you to those places. Movement is choppy, and the characters are forever getting in everyone else’s way, which, now that I think about it, is not entirely unrealistic for a theater setting.

For each play you stage, you are given a list of goals, and you must complete at least one of the goals to move forward. Initially, the bar is set pretty low – if you manage to assign an actor to the leading role and stage a play, you’ve succeeded. However it doesn’t take too long for the shows and the game to require quite a bit more from you.

Each day, your actors can perform up to two tasks. Most of the time, you’ll want to send them to rehearse, and they can work on their acting, singing or dancing, each of which will increase the correlated skill. However, if your actors express a preference and you allow them to do as they wish, they can potentially gain a much larger skill bump than if you choose for them. However, each role has certain skill requirements for it to be performed successfully, so what a character would prefer to work on doesn’t always align with the skills they most need to improve.

However, actors can be temperamental, and it frequently happens that they have some sort of issue in need of resolution while they are rehearsing. If you want to maximize the chance of them actually improving, you need to stop whatever else you were doing and run – don’t walk – to the rehearsal space to deal with whatever problem has just so urgently cropped up. This is done simply by choosing one of three responses, and which response is “correct” seems to depend on the personality of the actor. Even a wrong choice seems to be better than not dealing with the issue at all, but it’s hard to tell since you only receive soft feedback from your choice.

You also need to spend some time (and money) on costumes and sets, which, unsurprisingly, also require someone to work on those things. You are given a small number of potentially purchasable patterns each day from the catalog in your office, and you must then go to either the costuming or staging area to select the project before you can assign someone to work on it. You can do some stagecraft or costume creation yourself, but the mini-game – and I use the turn very loosely – is exceptionally tedious, so after trying it once, I tended to assign those tasks to others as much as possible. They didn’t seem to mind overly much.

All in all – Melodramatica is pretty impressively put together for a free game, although I personally would have greatly preferred it as a 2D or isometric set up for ease of getting around. There’s a lot of detail in the theater, and it’s easy for your character to get hung up on the scenery, leading to missed opportunities. Thankfully, for the most part, time isn’t a factor, so if you want to you can deal with your actors one by one and sit inside their rehearsal space to deal with any issues that crop up. I’d definitely be interested to see what else these developers could come up with, especially if they decided to stick with management games.

SteamDB estimates that Melodramatica has been downloaded somewhere between 1,400 and 4,000 times on Steam. Usually players have lower expectations of free titles, and the reviews seem to indicate that most folks are generally willing to overlook the rough edges and are enjoying the game. It is ranked 3390 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

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