I’ve found that, when starting a new project, it’s always good to start small. However, it’s also just a little bit embarrassing to start this series out by admitting I had never managed to finish up a game that takes less than two hours, end to end. So I guess I started very small indeed.
And here was the major problem for me. The last time I attempted to play Rusty Lake Hotel, I could not make the game save, no matter what I did. As a result, I ended up playing through the first couple of days multiple times, and never getting further along than that. This time, I went in with the intention of completing it in a single sitting if it still wouldn’t save for me.
Thankfully, somewhere in the interim, either the game got fixed up, or I got smarter, because it autosaved without issue.
Rusty Lake Hotel is a short, almost minimalistic point-and-click adventure puzzler. It’s also outrageously dark. You have been tasked with collecting the ingredients for dinner every night, and without giving away too much, that’s not as innocent of a task as you might expect. If you’re put off by cartoon gore in your adventure games, you should probably give this one a pass.
The focus is almost entirely on problem solving, and in order to find the problems, expect to click on absolutely everything you can click on. There is minimal dialogue, and the majority of the story is environmental. Each meal will require one mandatory and two optional ingredients. If you miss something – and it’s easy to miss something – you can proceed serving less than perfect dinners, or you can reset the entirety of the game. I would have liked the option to go back a single day at any given time, but even a complete restart isn’t too punishing due to the game’s length. Once you understand what you’re meant to do, each section of the game probably takes 10 minutes or less to complete.
There were a couple of puzzles that – at least for me – were really challenging even once I understood the idea of the thing. There is no in-game hint system, and once you enter a room at night, you cannot leave until you’ve gotten the required item. That said, for the truly stumped, a walkthrough isn’t difficult to find, and having to consult one a few times didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the game.
I’m not entirely sure where Rusty Lake Hotel fits into the greater Cube Escape / Rusty Lake universe. If it turns out they cannot really be played in any order, then I’ll likely have spoiled something for myself because I’ve been, over time, collecting all the paid titles in the series.
It took me just under two hours to complete the game with all stars, including a couple of resets when I realized I had missed an ingredient. I managed to only miss a single achievement. As someone who enjoys a good puzzler now and again, I found the entire experience to be very satisfying, and I’m glad to have revisited Rusty Lake Hotel and played through to completion.
I am usually firmly in the camp of “wait and see” when it comes to new releases, and I didn’t actually intend to pick up Grow: Song of the Evertree the day that it was available, despite having been excited for it since I saw it while watching Wholesome Direct back in June. It just so happened, however, that my roommate tested positive for COVID-19 the same day that the game came out, and I made the snap decision to pick it up for myself as something to maybe keep me occupied during isolation.
… and then I proceeded to play it for almost 30 hours over the next 5 days.
Grow is kind of an odd amalgamation of genres, but what it most closely reminded me of was Animal Crossing: New Horizons, if you weren’t restricted by the real time clock. You can expect to spend the majority of your time catching bugs & fish, playing with woodland critters, breaking rocks, and tending to plants. You start out with a single World Seed, which once planted, is – frankly – a big old mess of a place, but after three in-game days of tending, expands, and after nine in-game days is fully formed, and I’d say more than half of my game play hours were spent tending to this world (and the others that open up as you progress through the story).
There is also two other types of games mashed up in here – a rudimentary city / community builder, and some exploration & puzzle style game play, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Zelda games. What you won’t find is any combat at all – in fact, one could argue that you won’t find any challenge at all, and obviously, that makes the entire game play loop unsatisfying for some.
While it’s true that nothing in the entire game feels particularly difficult, I still found it all immensely satisfying. The story is just enough to hold the disparate pieces together, but it’s not particularly memorable. City building is looking at a list of tasks and working your way through them. Some of the exploration focused puzzles might have had some modicum of difficulty, but the game shows you all your objectives in a cut scene upon entering.
… and I still couldn’t stop playing.
The only part of the game I didn’t particularly enjoy was the villager quests. None of them were particularly interesting – with only a couple of exceptions, they were all of the “Bring me this item when you get one” variety. These quests could pretty much universally be ignored, however, although a couple of town building checklists had a line item to fulfill villager requests, it seemed like you could always reach 100% happiness & progress the story without completing all the requirements.
People who are particularly drawn to customization & decoration will likely get even more from the game than I did – there are tons of cosmetics you will either stumble upon during caring for your Worlds, or that you can buy from the associated business once you’ve built it. For me, decorating and customizing houses was something I did because I was required to, and let me tell you, I ended up with some seriously ugly buildings because of it.
The contents of each World you create are dictated by the ingredients you use to make the seed, so Worlds aren’t really customizable in the way that towns are. The plants, rocks, logs, and weeds you gather in one World can be deconstructed in your home to provide you with new essences, and the essence balance of each World determines what kinds of essences you get back out. For a good portion of the game, I was lacking in several kinds of essences, until I realized that you need to have a balance of different types of Worlds to get a good selection of essences.
You also have the option to sell the items you collect to the Everkin (who you are introduced to fairly early in the story) for a currency you can use to purchase essences you are missing, although the game never explicitly tells you this. Vendor essence availability is both random and limited, so the earlier you can manage to get some diverse worlds working, the easier time you’ll have for the rest of the game.
In the very early parts of the game, resource scarcity might be a little annoying, but it doesn’t last. In the latter half of the game, I could buy anything or build anything I wanted, and I probably rushed the end a little bit. I did get 18/22 achievements just from playing normally, and the only one I missed that would have been grindy was making all the Perfect World Seeds. As someone who isn’t that into exploring, I know I missed secret areas, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the game as a whole, and would provide more to do for someone who was into that sort of thing.
I don’t think Grow: Song of the Evertree is going to be a game for everyone, not by a long shot, and it’s certainly not a perfect game, but I found it to be completely satisfying. Give it a pass if you’re motivated by challenge, or if you get irritated by methodical, repetitive game play. For players who just want to make plants grow, pet animals, and chase bugs with a net in a pretty fantasy world, you will easily get your money’s worth from this one.
Before I dive into this review, I want to say a few things. One, this might be the first time I’ve seen credits for three games in less than a week and I’m kind of flabbergasted. Two, I want to apologize because I was absolutely wretched about taking screenshots throughout this play, so this post is going to be a little image-light for me. Finally, THERE WILL BE SPOLIERS but I promise to clearly mark where they start – scroll past that point only if you are okay with being spoiled.
I am very familiar with the feeling of playing a game I think I’m going to like, and then not liking it at all. What I’m far less used to is playing something I expect to not like to satiate my curiosity, and then blowing through it in a couple play sessions. And that, friends, is how I managed to finish Boyfriend Dungeon the day after downloading it from XBox Game Pass for PC.
Of course, the majority of the appeal came from the bizarre premise & genre mash-up. What if some people could turn into weapons, and some people were Wielders, who could use those weapons, and what if you could make a little bit of cash beating up monsters in a mall instead of paying for therapy? What if we used this premise to make a game that is part dating sim and part action dungeon crawler? That’s Boyfriend Dungeon. I had to try it, and then I could not stop playing.
Make no mistake, this is a fairly short game. I didn’t chase every achievement, but I did max out each relationship path before embarking on the “point of no return” quest. It’s also not a particularly difficult game – I’m not great with this type of game, and I don’t feel like there were too many points even I found challenging. Overall, while I found the game to be pretty compelling while playing, as soon as I stepped away from it, my feelings changed more to a “Well, that was fine.”
I actually prefer my games pretty low on the difficulty scale (especially games, like this one, that really benefit from the use of a controller), so that didn’t bother me at all. I’m really not a huge fan of dating sims normally, so I’m not sure how much awkwardness is par for the course, but the vicarious embarrassment, which was nearly constant and pretty intense, wasn’t too much of a problem for me. Instead, what keeps me from feeling like this game was pretty damn good is that the pacing is downright awful.
The early game really made me feel like I was in for a damn long haul – everything felt so slow, despite being bombarded with information (and characters) that ended up coming to absolutely nothing. A couple hours in, I decided to check the expected game length on How Long To Beat, and was surprised that I was almost halfway through despite feeling like I just started. At that time, I had only met 3 out of the 7 dateable characters, and hadn’t proceeded very far in any of their storylines.
And then, Kitfox Games threw a cinderblock on the gas pedal, and the result is what feels like it should have been way more game crammed into a package that doesn’t fit it. I’m not sure why they decided to release the game at this point because it’s pretty clear while playing that there is stuff they either cut out or just haven’t added in yet. There are holes, and they’re easy to see while playing.
Early on in the game, the main way of gaining relationship points with your chosen weapon(s) is to traverse the dungeon with them. Of course, you’re not all that powerful early on, and when you run out of health, that run is over. If you make it far enough, you will unlock floor skips, but this is definitely a slow process, and it’s interspersed with unavoidable “dates” with characters who are not really part of the plot.
By about the midway point, you have access to a fair amount of money with which you can purchase gifts, as well as having unlocked at least some gift crafting recipes. This is about the time that relationship gain feels pretty satisfying, but that only lasts until the you max out your first relationship path. At that point, you’re granted an item which doubles all relationship point gain regardless of source. The same item also grants the ability to early points over each level’s cap. This means that if you hadn’t been giving out gifts previously, and you choose to start doing so now, you can practically skip multiple relationship levels with a judicious gift or two, or simply by progressing through the second (of only two) dungeons. Sure, you still get the interactions, but its a little jarring when date requests start coming back to back.
This ended up working to my benefit, because I had almost completed the game’s plot when I realized I had missed a person. A couple meetings, a couple gifts, and a few dungeon floors let me go from never having met the person to maxed out in less than an hour of game time. Which was for the best, but only because I was really out of things to do other than grinding for the sake of grinding. I was mildly concerned that I maybe I had rushed the game, but my character level didn’t slow me down any on the final boss fight, so unless the intent is to add more content, there’s no reason for the potential character level to be even as high as it is. This could potentially be a frustration for someone who wants to hit “max level” before finishing the game – there’s just no way that it’s necessary if you’re even moderately competent.
On top of that, there are a few character / story issues that are troublesome for quite a few players. One of the romance options doesn’t have a satisfying “good” ending, no matter what you do. The character who turns out to be the main antagonist is outrageously problematic long before you realize he’s the actual bad guy of the game, and not just a horrible person, and hooboy, the ending to that arc felt … really unsatisfying, as the game wants you to feel like that taking oneself to therapy is adequate punishment for kidnapping and mutilation in this world. Opinions seem to be more divided on the absolute utter lack of consequences to getting romantically involved with absolutely everyone; for me, I think what was lacking was the ability to communicate that fact in a lot of instances.
For me, by the midway point of the game, every time I the option came up with a new character, I chose a platonic route. It locks you out of absolutely nothing, and it soothed my conscience a little bit. Which also kind of leads into a personal issue I tend to have with dating sims, and I don’t know if this is a thing that happens with people who are bigger fans of the genre.
To me, it always feels like there are one, sometimes two, characters that are presented as the right choice, and the rest of them are just there to sweet talk you and wave a whole bouquet of red flags. Of course, in Boyfriend Dungeon, it doesn’t really matter if you choose one person or all of them – you don’t get your happily ever after, at least not within the game.
The main character arc was a little painful – you arrive in Verona Beach as a person of indeterminate age who has never so much been on a date. In no time, you’re the object of a madman’s obsession, and absolutely everyone is tripping over themselves to get next to you, including a 200 year old vampire, and a K-pop celebrity, because, I suppose, you are the main character. It was extra weird for me since the two main fears you’re fighting throughout the story are the fear of change and the fear of intimacy. It’s like, maybe you were never actually ready to date at all?
But then, even once you’ve conquered your fears, and destroyed the bad guy, you’re rewarded simply with a day on the beach and a plane ride back home. All the characters who have been declaring their undying love for you throughout the whole game are suddenly like “It’s been real, keep in touch, maybe we’ll see each other again someday, I guess.”
It’s a let down. I would have – at the very least – been able to choose one character I connected most to and gotten some kind of little epilogue of what happened with that relationship after the credits. The ending definitely needed something, because I was sitting there, shaking my head, thinking that’s it?
Maybe it’s a little too much to expect emotional authenticity and a satisfying resolution from a game that has living weapons and a datable cat (who is also a weapon).
I feel like I’ve done a lot of complaining here about a game I actually liked. It was weird and out there and the dungeon crawling – for me at least – was enjoyable, but probably would just be frustrating for someone who likes their combat more challenging. For the most part, the relationship candidates had interesting personal stories, and spending time with them, both inside and outside of the dungeons, felt good.
No, Boyfriend Dungeon isn’t a bad game, but it’s a game that feels incomplete. It’s a game where you can see the supports through the gaps in the finish. For me, the attempt to make everyone happy by letting you do pretty much whatever you wanted missed the mark. I wanted more meaningful choices. I wanted to be able to say the wrong thing and have that have lasting consequences. And maybe, just a little, I wanted someone to beg me not to leave.
I really think there should be a word for when you are simultaneously surprised and also not surprised by something. Because that’s absolutely how I’m feeling about blowing through Alekon in a couple of days. It’s not that I expected it to have more content, but more that I didn’t expect that I was going to be starting it up every chance I got until I saw the credits roll.
Borrowing heavily from – and throwing some occasional good natured shade at – the Pokemon Snap games, you are tasked with taking photographs of critters, which in the Alekon-universe are called Fictions, in a variety of poses. Initially, you are tied to a path, where you have full range to look around, but cannot move or control the speed at which you move. Capturing good photos will award you with Creativity, which is necessary to open additional islands where you will find more Fictions to photograph.
That part of the game play loop was pretty much what I was expecting, and what I was looking for. One of the things I did really enjoy that I wasn’t expecting was that, once you do what you need to in order to open three different paths on an island, and you traverse each one at least once, you are given the option to explore the island in its entirety in Wander mode. This is exactly what it sounds like – you have full ability to move around everywhere, with no time limits or limits on how many photos you can take. When you want to return to the hub world, you just click on any of the many portals scattered about.
Upon returning to the hub world, your photos are automatically sorted, and the best one of each Fiction in each individual pose is judged, and the points added to your Creativity total. After judging, you can click on any greyed out outline on the wall to get hints for what other poses you haven’t captured on film yet.
Additionally, once you photograph a Fiction for the first time, a copy of that creature appears in the hub world, and every single one of them will – eventually – have a minigame for you to play to obtain even more Creativity. The minigames come in a lot of different styles, and there were some that I tried once and said “Oh, no, no thank you” and moved on. It’s important to talk to the Fictions, though, even if you’re not really interested in the mini-games, because some of them do grant you additional abilities that you will need to complete puzzle sections throughout the game.
I completed the game without capturing every available pose, or completing every available minigame. In fact, I don’t even think I discovered every single Fiction. The win condition of Alekon definitely gives you some wiggle room to prevent the game from becoming overly grindy or frustrating. You can, however, finish up the game and then return to the hub world and resume playing mini-games and taking pictures, even though the game does its darnedest to make you think that you cannot.
The story was serviceable for a game that is basically about playing with a camera and meeting fantasy creatures & helping them with their problems. A couple of times I got stuck trying to figure out how to open a path, complete a mini-game, or solve an environmental puzzle, and since the game is so recent, there aren’t any real guides out there yet. However, stepping away for a bit and coming at it with fresh eyes always did the trick for me.
While I might not have minded another island or two to explore, I can also appreciate that Alekon didn’t overstay its welcome, and I definitely left more than a few things unfinished, so there’s potential for a bit more play time without replaying the game in its entirety. I spent just under 6 hours with the game, and almost every single minute I was delighted by the art, the music, the game play and the character design. It really is just a lovely chill little game, and I honestly think I might have been more satisfied overall with my experience playing Alekon than I did with Pokemon Snap.
The good news is, I actually played a whole lot more Persona 4 Golden this month than I expected to. The bad news, however, is that I have reached a point where I don’t expect to actually finish the game. In a way, it’s sort of a shame to have spent almost 45 hours with it, but for me, there were just a few too many annoyances to get past, culminating in the solution to the Whodunit being wholly unsatisfying.
When a story is a twisty as this one is, there really is no good time to throw in the towel, because until the credits roll it’s always possible that unsatisfying story elements will slide into place in an epic A-HA! moment. In fact, when I last closed down the game, I didn’t intend to stop playing, despite being somewhat grumpy about the direction the story was taking. However, for me something had changed. Before the Big Reveal, I found myself playing at least a little every day, interspersed with a few marathon sessions when I wanted to see a particular story beat resolved before saving for the day.
Somehow, the appeal just disappeared. Sure, a big part of it was that I felt cheated by a major story point that – to me – made very little sense. But another, not insignificant, factor was the fact that I realized I was running out of time, and it was going to be impossible for me to do everything I still wanted to do. Being inefficient in the early game when I didn’t know any better meant that I just didn’t have enough slots of free time left to wrap up all the things I wanted to wrap up. I’m generally not a New Game+ player, so anything I couldn’t finish was going to stay unfinished, and that knowledge sapped my will to continue.
While it’s not that unusual for me to leave something unfinished, what is strange is actually deciding to do so, especially when it’s something I put this much time into. Did I get enough out of it? Yes, I think I did. There were characters I really loved, bits of story I really appreciated, and overall, I felt like it was a really solid game. I just wasn’t, necessarily, the right game for me. I tend not to pursue efficiency while gaming, and I’m not the biggest fan of time limits in a story focused game, even when they make sense inside of the plot, as they do here.
For me, one of the best things about casual game sequels is that you know what to expect, and that’s going to be more of the same. After all, most casual game developers just keep doing the same thing once they figure out what works.
Not so with Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces, and as far as I’m concerned, the innovation here is definitely to the game’s detriment. Approximately half the levels function very similarly to the first game – you’re given styles, a few models, and a whole bunch of clothing, and you have the make the best outfits. Sure, some of the styles are even more outlandish than in the first game, but that’s fine.
The addition of male models & their associated styles was fine, for the most part. Most levels that had male models had them exclusively, so the game play was pretty much identical. It did get annoying in the late game when there were multiple genders of models in the same level, but without any corresponding increase in the amount of clothing available – more than once, I had to use multiple shuffles just to get enough pieces to fully dress a model, regardless of style, and I felt like the concept was cool, but it was poorly thought out from a play perspective.
What didn’t work for me was the new photo shoot levels.
No longer are you able to hover over the style types to get more details – you need to remember all the hallmarks of the styles and find the models that best match them. The timer on a lot of these photo shoot levels is super tight, and the models are often stacked up, meaning if you’re not careful, you may snap someone you didn’t intend. On the upside, the required scores aren’t too challenging, so you still rarely need to replay unless you’re going for perfect scores. I actually got irritated each time one of these levels cropped up, which they do far too frequently.
Overall, the second entry in the Jojo’s Fashion show series looks like an upgrade, but definitely wasn’t nearly as enjoyable to play. Every time I felt like I was getting into a groove, the rules would change, and it just wasn’t fun after awhile. Although my final play time was super close to that of the first game, it felt a whole lot longer, and not in a good way.
I know that I played all three games in the series many years ago, but my time with Jojo’s Fashion Show 2: Las Cruces has discouraged me from even trying to track down the third game. I wish the developers had believed in the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Okay, I know I’m usually scrambling the last week of the month on these, but man, I forgot how much I enjoyed these games, and I’m going to ‘fess up right here and now – I cheated because I started this one in May! I had a little bit of trouble tracking this game down initially, but you can play in browser on IWin, or purchase it from BigFishGames.
It took me just a little longer than I had guessed – just under four hours.
So, what is Jojo’s Fashion Show? It’s a casual game where you are given a style (or a list of styles), and you need to dress up your models in those styles to score points. You can’t take too long figuring out the best outfits, though, there’s always a timer going, and if you take too long, your model might be sent out onto the runway only partially dressed! You can access the style sheet from the model screen by clicking on the nameplate above a model’s head, which helps when it comes to some of the weirder details (like specific colors).
Some styles are fairly easy to figure out with common sense, like Bridal or Winter. Some, like Valley Girl or Flamenco Punk are a little less intuitive, but it doesn’t take too long to figure out which pieces of clothing are optimal and which others will do in a pinch. Scoring well on certain outfits will give you “power ups” which allow you to do things like shuffle available clothing or designate a model as a Super Model which will double that outfit’s score, and after playing a few levels, you’ll gain access to accessories, which can give you a little boost.
Another way to increase the score for your models is to follow the fashion dos for bonus points. Some of them are presented on level starting screens, but most you’ll learn by trying things out. Something that’s a fashion do in one style will still be something to look out for in every other style, so learning your fashion dos early and applying them often could very well be the difference between a four and five star show on some of the more challenging levels.
Which is not to say that the game itself is hard in any way – you never need more than three stars on any level in order to pass it, but if you’re looking for replayability, five star shows can be pretty challenging, especially in levels with several styles. Each level also has three signature outfits, which will then unlock in Dress Up Mode (which is an untimed alternate game mode that I skipped entirely). Beware though – Signature Outfits are frequently not great for your score!
I think the thing that surprised me the most is how much I still loved this kind of casual game – for the most part, I don’t play too many of these anymore because the cost to playtime ratio doesn’t feel compelling to me when there’s so many other options out there. Out of curiosity, I went looking and was surprised to see that Shockwave Unlimited is actually still an available service, and although it’s not likely to be something I use again, I’m glad it’s available, because it was a staple of my gaming life for several years.
I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game with so many aspects I thought were absolutely spot on, and yet walked away strangely unsatisfied. Seasons After Fall is absolutely beautiful to look at, the soundtrack is haunting, and the voice acting is spot on. The story is sparse, but it was enough to make me want to see it through to the end. Unfortunately, once I passed about the 25% mark, I realized that in spite of all that, I really wasn’t enjoying the game play.
Now, I’m pretty much always willing to consider the fact that it’s just me, especially when dealing with a game outside of my preferred genres. I haven’t played all that many metroidvanias, mostly because precision platforming is not my thing, and combat while platforming is even worse. In fact, one of the main reasons I chose this game to play this month is the fact that there is no combat and the platforming is very, very forgiving. It seemed like that would make it a good choice for an ultimate noob to the genre.
But after spending four hours with it (on this playthrough – I previously completed about 1/3 of the game before wandering off), I’m not entire sure who this game is meant for. It’s not really story-focused, the puzzles are often frustrating and obtuse, and the platforming – and there’s a considerable amount of it – is super floaty. Normally, when I miss jumps, I know it’s my fault. In Seasons After Fall, even the same exactly jump feels different each time you need to do it, and I can’t imagine how frustrating that would be for a player with some actual skill.
On the upside, there are absolutely no fail states – although I did hit a couple of points where I briefly believed I’d screwed up in a way that there was no recovering from. More than once, I needed to quit the game in order to reset a mechanic I’d messed up. This wasn’t a deal-breaker, once I learned about it, but it did lead to a little bit of frantic Googling.
At about the halfway point, I found myself a walkthrough, and finished the game with that open on my second monitor. Figuring out puzzles wasn’t satisfying – I wasn’t feeling clever, I was feeling cheated by mechanics that were never really explained. I did really appreciate ability to change the season at will – watching the world change when switching between seasons made me smile almost every time. However, I feel like it was used so often in the exact same ways and became so repetitive, it couldn’t be considered a puzzle; it was just a set of powers that enabled you to get around the world.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit grumpy when the credits rolled and the game basically told me “OH SO CLOSE, BUT NO!” and I realized that if I really wanted to finish the game, I still had more to do.
In order to reach the actual ending, I need to backtrack for a missed achievement, which added probably 20 minutes to my play time. I’m not sure why I missed it initially – I believe I was already using the walkthrough at that point, but since I took a two week break between the first 2/3 of the game, and finishing it up, I couldn’t recall if I just couldn’t make it work, or I blew it off, figuring it didn’t matter all that much. As it is, I finished up with 19/21 achievements, but I have absolutely no desire to go back and complete the two I missed while playing.
(Incidentally, just over 16% of players finished through the credits, but only just 12% bothered to get to the real ending, so clearly, that was annoying to at least a few other people, too.)
I don’t know – I guess I just don’t know who this game would be a hit for. It’s too frustrating to appeal to people who aren’t really fans of platformers, and far too simple to appeal to fans of the genre. The basic mechanics are super simple, but the more puzzling-focused sections are poorly explained, tedious, and unsatisfying, even when I did figure them out without the walkthrough. I guess if, like me, you don’t mind using a walkthrough or consulting a video now and again, and – unlike me – you’re a fairly competent platformer, it might be a lovely, brainless way to spend an evening or two. I honestly don’t know anyone I could wholeheartedly recommend it to.
Still, I’m not unhappy that I finished it.
In retrospect, I don’t know that it was necessarily a great choice for #MetroidvaniaMay. I definitely think it qualifies, since there a large map, divided into discrete sections, and you need to acquire your seasonal powers in order to unlock further areas. However, since you unlock them all pretty early in the game, all the backtracking after that point is just to find new objectives rather than opening up any actual new areas. And maybe that is the real problem with Seasons After Fall – it overstays its welcome.
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.
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.