Game Over – Best Friend Forever – #DatingSiMonth

Put dogs in something, and I’m going to at least be interested, if not immediately grabbing my wallet. So despite not being a huge fan of dating sims in general, I knew from the minute I first heard about Best Friend Forever, I’d need to give it a playthrough eventually. I played the demo during one of the Steam Game Festivals last summer, but I only got around to actually picking up the game a couple weeks ago.

Now, I read reviews before diving in, but logically, I would think that adding management aspects to a dating sim would increase the length. Not so here. A full play through took me just under two hours, and really, there wasn’t much I could have done differently to pad out that time. This is fine if you’re the type of person who replays dating sims multiple times to romance all the available characters, or to hunt for any bits of story the first play through might have denied you.

Unfortunately for me, picking a different dog to adopt holds more interest for me than pursuing a different romance route, and the dog choice is mostly cosmetic. The character I chose to date for my play through was the only one who felt right – in part due to my personal tastes, and in part, because there are only six characters to choose from! While I think it’s absolutely fantastic that you can choose your gender, and it doesn’t lock you out of any of the romance paths, none of the other characters really appealed to me, even if I were to disregard gender. It sounds like I’m complaining, and ok, I am, a little bit, but I was absolutely satisfied with the story route I chose. It was a great romance! There just … isn’t much left for me after playing the game through once.

For anyone hoping for deep management mechanics, you won’t find those here. Training your dog is simple, as is caring for them, once you figure out how the fiddly bits work. The interactable events during story blocks are a neat addition, but it really does amount to a bit of flavor. Now, it’s a flavor I like a lot, but there isn’t a whole lot of strategy going on here unless you’re chasing achievements or have your heart set on your new pooch graduating at the absolute top of his or her class. I’m sure it’s possible to fail puppy parenting classes, but I think you’d have to work a whole lot harder at that than you do at succeeding.

At first, you might think that motivation points are going to feel restrictive, but that wasn’t my experience – of course, I wasn’t feeling out different romanceable characters, so someone else might find it unpleasant not to be able to pursue every possible encounter. I appreciated that I needed to make choices, although the ability to spend time with everyone every week certainly would have increased the play time, but I think that would really be detrimental to the pacing.

My only other gripe would be the plot point you’re hit with after the second major event; I’m not sure what I was expecting as far as resolution for it, but it felt kind of cheap to toss in a moment of “bad things just happen sometimes” if it wasn’t a mystery that would end up being solved.

Best Friend Forever isn’t a perfect game, but it was a nice way to spend an evening. I likely won’t return to it unless it gets significant upgrades or DLC, so I’m glad I waited for a discount to pick it up. If you like dogs, dating sims, and a mostly light, fun story, I don’t know there’s much else out there that quite scratches this itch.

Game Over – Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker – #DatingSiMonth

It’s not too often that I spend over ten hours with a game that I have such mixed feelings about, but Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker was equal parts compelling and irritating, but I just kept going back to it. I won’t even get into all the things that – at least in my opinion – it gets totally wrong about dating. I really want to mostly look at it from a complete play-feel perspective.

Although I chose this to play for #DatingSiMonth, I was expecting it to be more of a management game, and in that, at least, I wasn’t disappointed. The management aspects were a little more complex than I think they strictly needed to be, but I suppose if you consider the fact that human compatibility is super complicated, it makes sense. Each person who walked into the dating agency was one of ten different “types”, with a job, three interests, three preferences (for gender, hair, and eye color), and had a set of five traits (each one selected from a pair of opposite traits), as well as an affluence level, guilty pleasure, and bad habit. Of course, the game didn’t throw all of this at you at once – thank goodness – but by the end, there was a lot to juggle, and despite having unlocked the entirety of the little black book, it often felt like there wasn’t a good match to be found.

I think that would have all been fine, though, except for the fact that a lot of the determination of whether or not you were ultimately successful was in the hands of luck. Quite a few of the mini-games were infinitely game-able (I admit to using my phone’s calculator to determine tip percentage a few times), but some were just plain random, even if you knew what result you wanted – and oftentimes, I had no idea what I should be crossing my fingers to hope for. One of the mini-games you might encounter on a date required you to guess if the next card drawn would be higher or lower – something I would have found irritating even if it wasn’t tied to an event about flatulence. I’m sure some folks would find it funny, but for me, it managed to be both frustrating and uncomfortable.

It took me just under 11 hours to go from the employee ID on the left to the one on the right, and although my level steadily increased, my reputation was all over the place as I failed to make good matches, sometimes due to my own questionable judgement, but more often because a mini-game went wrong, or the Love Handle wouldn’t give me the topics I wanted my clients to discuss. Several times, I was unsure if I made a mistake or if the tip given to me about horoscope compatibility was misleading – many times I was pretty sure I had made a good match, astrologically speaking, but that wasn’t at all how it played out.

To be fair, I didn’t really deep dive into all the available systems – I mostly chose to ignore the gifting mechanic, and I didn’t do too much with client makeovers. I did unlock all the agency upgrades for those mechanics, but they weren’t all that alluring, and cost money I preferred to use on more upgrades. I did not manage to unlock all the available restaurants while leveling, but other than requiring nicer restaurants for more affluent clients and satisfaction taking a hit if you sent the same couple on a second date to the same place, there really didn’t seem to be a whole lot of point to it.

I did enjoy the fact that, after matching a couple successfully, you’d get a letter from a previous client letting you know how it all worked out, but for me, it was mostly flavor, not really adding any new information to what I already knew about the clients when I paired them off. Sometimes I got lucky, and a match that shouldn’t have worked did, but when they later broke up, I took a small rep hit (although far less of one than I took when I was unable to match a client and they took their business elsewhere).

There is a new game plus mode, once you finish the campaign and complete the final challenge. You’re sent off to start a new agency, but you keep all your unlocks and your reputation. In fact, you’re going to see many of the same faces in your little black book, despite the conceit that you’ve set up shop in a new town. For me, there’s no real reason to keep on – I feel like I’ve seen the majority of the game had to offer on my first play through, and this isn’t one that’s going to inspire achievement hunting.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Kitty Powers’ Matchmaker more than I did with the game I chose to play for last years #DatingSiMonth, but it also wasn’t enough to make me a fan of the genre. In fact, I definitely preferred the strategy and management aspects to the paper-thin story, but I definitely would have gotten more out of it if I was into the tone & humor of the game as well.

Game Over – Hook – #PuzzleGameMonth

Over the years, I have amassed quite the collection of short, minimalist puzzle games which I load up once, play a handful of levels, and then proceed to forget about while I shop for more short, minimalist puzzle games. It’s a problem. However, I decided to see if I could actually finish one during #PuzzleGameMonth, and at only 50 levels, Hook seemed like it’d give me a pretty good chance at completion. In about 90 minutes, over a couple of evenings, I managed to finish all 50 levels, although more than once, I was sure the game had beaten me.

The concept is simple – click on the large black buttons to pull pins, until you have no pins left. The image above is one of the earlier puzzles, and it’s not too difficult to figure out the order of presses to make the pins come away smoothly. Press the button in the upper left, followed by the button on the right, and lastly, the one in the lower left.

But again, this is an early level.

As you progress, you’ll have more stuff to mess with in order to make things work. The image above is from a puzzle near the midgame. Still not terribly hard, but it’s starting to get complicated. Some levels have pieces that you need to rotate, some have pieces that send out a signal, and some have both. In the latter half of the game, you really have to think about every possible pathway. The game does eventually start giving you more than one mistake before it fully resets the level, but there were quite a few that took me several tries.

Hook has absolutely no story, no text, and you will need to learn from the game as you progress through it, but the puzzles are absolutely satisfying, and picking it up at full retail will likely give you at least an hour of puzzling for only a dollar. I’m glad I pulled this one out from the deeps of my library to play.

Game Over – Donut County – #PuzzleGameMonth

The simplest way to explain Donut County is probably that it’s like a Katamari game, but in reverse. Instead of becoming a giant ball of everything you’ve sucked up along the way, you play as a hole, which gets bigger and bigger the more things that fall into it. Mostly, this means navigating a level and finding items to gobble up from smallest to largest. Mostly.

There’s a story here – a silly nonsensical thing, which honestly, is kind of expected when you’re playing a game about dropping things in a hole. What I didn’t expect was the small, clever puzzles that were sprinkled throughout. On one level, you need your hole to be far bigger than the items you can absorb seem to make possible, but once you put two bunnies in the hole, they start reproducing, greatly increasing the surface area you have to work with!

The art style and sound design are lovely, the gameplay is satisfying, and really? Overall, Donut County is a fantastic (if very short) experience. It took me about 90 minutes to complete, although I missed some achievements along the way. The only stumbling block for me personally was the “boss fight” at the end; even though the characters basically TOLD me it was coming, I was unprepared. Still, even failing it once had it’s own reward.

No, my only real gripe is that the $13 price point seems a little bit steep for a game with limited replayability that you’ll finish faster than the runtime of most movies. I was gifted this title during the Steam Winter Sale 2020. If it sounds like something that you’d get a kick out of, I’d absolutely recommend it if you can grab it on sale.

Game Over: Fort Meow (#PuzzleGameMonth)

After trying out Outer Wilds, and finding myself incapable of landing a spaceship, I went completely off-script for #PuzzleGameMonth and fired up Fort Meow, a short physics-based puzzler in which you build a fort to keep some pesky cats out of your lap while you read through your grandfather’s journal. It’s every bit as weird as it sounds, but strangely satisfying to play. Different types of cats will effect your fort differently, and it after the initial few levels, I felt like I really needed some trial and error to figure out exactly how all the pieces worked together with the variety of enemies.

I’ll be frank, the story wasn’t great, and the whole game took about two hours from start to finish, but exploring the house to find new, interesting items for your fort was kind of great, and actually building your fort felt almost as good as watching it get destroyed. Early on, you’re restricted to common items, like armchairs and mattresses, but the further you progress through the game, the more interesting and game-changing the items became. I was particularly fond of the items like the toaster, which made cats fall asleep and not do damage, or the yarn launcher, which decreased the damage done by cats who had been hit by a ball of yarn.

There’s some additional play value in the “Challenge Mode” that unlocks after completing the game proper, but I found myself satisfied after completing the story mode. This one has been hanging out in my library since it was part of the Yogscast Jingle Jam back in 2018, and I probably would never have gotten around to it if I hadn’t been looking specifically for a puzzle game that I could play through in an evening.