Wrapping Up #SimulatorGameDec

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.

House Flipper

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.

Viscera Cleanup Detail – Santa’s Rampage

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.

Quick Look – Planet Zoo

I procrastinated on picking up Planet Zoo for quite awhile – partially, because I expected it to show up in a bundle eventually, partly because Frontier Developments adores dropping a million piecemeal DLCs, but mostly because I suspected I wouldn’t actually like it, even though I really wanted to. I’m about five hours in now – getting full stars on the three tutorial scenarios, and full stars on the first actual scenario – and I am afraid I was right. The game is great, but I don’t much like it.

I have a lot of trouble with spatial relations, both in real life and when it comes to video games. Building things from parts that don’t just snap together tends to cause a lot of frustration for me, and because Planet Zoo really exists around assembling components in your own way, there’s a big part of the game that I feel ill-equipped to deal with. It does have Steam Workshop support, and you can download just about any kind of something you might need, however, sorting through to find items that don’t require DLC you don’t have might feel overwhelming. For me personally, I just want the game to give me some basic blueprints for whatever I might need. Sure, it obviously could be better if I customized it, but give me something I can plop down that my animals, staff and/or guest are going to find acceptable and let me move on.

It is pretty, though, and the basic mechanics feel good for the most part, although I admit to getting absolutely flummoxed by where to adjust something a time or two while playing. There’s a pretty heavy focus on both education and conservation, which is great. However, like Planet Coaster before it, it leans heavily into letting you build something that looks really great to the detriment of the actual management side of things. You’re given more money than you need for the basics, and I was never losing money for more than a few minutes at a time at any point.

I’m not saying I would never revisit Planet Zoo, but for the time being, the itch is scratched and my curiosity is satiated. Honestly, if I had a little less freedom in setting up my zoos, I think I’d probably still be playing. However, despite the game telling me I was successful, my hodgepodge of ugly exhibits certainly didn’t impress me.

Quick Look – Spellcaster University

I fully admit that a big part of what I enjoy about gaming subscription services is the opportunity to try out things that intrigue me, but that I don’t actually think I’ll like. Rather than keep them on my wishlist forever, I will play them on Game Pass or Utomik, and then move on. But sometimes a game surprises me, and Spellcaster University definitely surprised me.

The reason I thought I wouldn’t like it all that much is that, like every third game released in the past two years, there’s a card mechanic, and I am so over card games. Otherwise, it sounded right up my alley – you manage a magic school, building classrooms and services, hiring staff, and creating houses to focus the studies of certain students. Meanwhile, you need to make nice with various factions, and you’ve got to work quickly, because the Forces of Evil are coming, making it necessary to move on to a new location and start again.

In campaign mode, at the end of each level, you will be awarded a spellbook to use in all future levels, the strength of which depends on how many quests you were able to complete in the previous level. You will also get a new curse, which makes things more difficult. The seventh time you do this, you need to complete a series of quests to defeat the Forces of Evil once and for all. Or at least for 274.5 years.

There are five difficulty levels, five game speeds, and challenge rules that you can mix and match to customize your experience. I played on the standard difficulty (Sorcerer), but I decreased the game speed in order to have more time on each level, and it was still challenging to try to knock out all the necessary quests. I’m just shy of 14 hours in, and have not yet managed to beat the campaign. If you fail the final scenario, however, you are given the option to replay just that level, however, I elected to start over with all the knowledge I’d gained from my previous playthrough to see if I could set myself up for success a little bit better.

It’s a quirky take on your pretty average management game fare. As I suspected, the card mechanic is my least favorite part. When you have adequate funds or mana built up, you can draw three cards from the respective deck, and choose one to keep. On the upside, it’s not actually a deck-building mechanic, rather just a vehicle for some RNG. On the downside, it’s a lot of RNG for a management game. Often, I would need a specific classroom or service, and I just couldn’t seem to draw it (or obtain it through other means). On one level, I couldn’t manage to get my hands on any of the Arcane magic classrooms, so for the majority of the level, I wasn’t producing any Arcane mana. Naturally, it was a level where more than one of my quests required me to use Arcane mana, so it didn’t work out so well for me.

Each of the available decks have an assortment of card types. Early in the level, you’re probably going to want to focus on classrooms, but you can pull decor items & pets that provide unique buffs, as well as items that buff students once they reach a certain proficiency in the related schools of magic, and cards that will improve your teachers. Pets & decor can only be placed in certain places in your available rooms, whereas items are just dropped on the school and then given to students as they earn them. Teacher items are applied to their classrooms rather than on the character sprite. If this was well explained in the tutorial, I missed it.

If that was all Spellcaster University had going on, it would probably be enough. However, there are still a couple more mechanics. During play, you may get a quest that will open up a dungeon. When you travel there, you can take four students, and progress through until all your students die (which isn’t great for your school’s reputation, by the way) or until you decide you’ve gone far enough. Each level you progress adds to the threat level, and makes the encounters more difficult. Initially, I was really bad at dungeons, so I stopped doing them for awhile, but once I got the hang of it, I realized they could really be beneficial. Dungeon encounters can reward just about any card you could get from any deck, as well as gold, mana, prestige, and reputation.

There are items you can receive for your school that will grant you reagent cards at random while you’re working on everything else. Once you have three different reagents, you can combine them in the cauldron to create a potion. There are potions that grant each type of mana, potions that grand gold, potions that grant prestige, and a couple of other utility potions. In most levels, potions probably won’t be your focus, but eventually, you’ll run into factions that pretty much require you to work with potions, so it’s worth learning what combinations do as early as possible in each playthrough. Potion recipes are randomized at the start of each campaign, so it’s not possible to go into a new campaign knowing what combinations make which potions.

Students will eventually graduate, assuming they survive that long, and you will have the opportunity to see what career they pursue after graduation. Every student that graduates has a chance to reward you with resources and prestige, and if you are displeased with the future a student receives, you are given one chance to reroll. On most levels, one of the quests you’ll have is to have a certain number of students graduate into a certain profession. While that quest is active, any student who meets the qualification of that profession will automatically be placed there, which was a welcome change to the many parts of the game play that require a certain amount of luck.

Spellcaster University is a fairly solid management game, with a lot of customization options, but it isn’t without its flaws. I’ve found myself frustrated a few times, but it’s compelling enough to keep bringing me back. I initially played through Utomik, however, it is also one of the games available currently through Prime Gaming.

Quick Look – The Good Life (#SimulatorGameDec)

Since I like mysteries, life sim gameplay, taking photographs, and adorable animals, I thought The Good Life would be a slam-dunk for me. Honestly, the game has good bones, and all the pieces should work really well together. After five hours of playtime, however, I am put off by awkward controls, unsatisfying photography, unlikable characters, and an absurd amount of mechanic bloat. I don’t expect this is a game I will be going back to.

The player character is photo-journalist Naomi Hayward, whose signature phrase seems to be “A GODDAMNED HELLHOLE” and I am so very tired of hearing her say that already. She’s been sent by her employer to uncover the mysteries of Rainy Woods, the self-proclaimed “Happiest Town on Earth”, somewhere in rural England. I think the big mystery is supposed to be about how the townsfolk turn into cats & dogs at night, and I would apologize for the spoilers, but it’s also in the first paragraph of the game description on Steam, so…

If you’re already thinking, ok, this is a little weird, I’d draw your attention to the fact that this game was developed by the same person who made Deadly Premonition, and then tell you – it gets weirder. It doesn’t just embrace its weirdness, it wears it like a badge of honor.

Then of course, there’s a dead body.

The Good Life leans heavily into adventure game tropes, which by itself, I don’t have a problem with. The Good Life should feel free to be an adventure game if that’s what it wants. However, it gets in its own way over and over with non-adventure game mechanics that are, at best, distracting, at and worse, suck every drop of fun to be had right out of the game.

There’s a lot of focus on earning money – via quest completion (both for townsfolk and for your employer) as well as from taking photographs that align with popular hashtags and uploading them to social media. Hey, a need to have money to pay of a ridiculous amount of debt is a great motivation. The problem here is twofold. One, some of the “life sim” aspects mean you’re spending money faster than you can make it (you’re going to need a lot of food, and I’ve already had to go the doctor multiple times to cure ailments), and two, quest items and necessary camera upgrades are prohibitively expensive. If you’re the type who just wants to follow the story and do quests, well, too bad, because you need to spend an absurd amount of time doing things to make pennies, and most of those pennies will probably go back into buying food so you don’t pass out from starvation.

Also, at least in the early game, traveling around the map is going to eat up a huge chunk of your day. Your home isn’t so much far from the action, but it is somewhat awkwardly placed, and is the only place you can manually save. You can conserve your financial resources a bit by cooking items you find or grow in your garden, but if there’s a way to store pre-made food in your inventory to eat while you’re on the other side of the world, I haven’t discovered it. I found myself frequently wandering away from the active storyline in order to go home, eat, sleep, shower, and check my email. Which is annoying in and of itself, but the main story will occasionally drop you into “urgent” quests, which is bad because you don’t know when they’re coming, and some are rather long. If you haven’t recently refilled your needs meters, you may find yourself stuck and having to revert to an earlier save.

But the final straw for me is that I really am tired of listening to my player character. One of the last sections I played through has her screaming “YEAH BABY” over and over to the point where I almost turned the sound off. There’s another character who shows up way too often for my taste who just screams “LOBSTAH!” over and over and I hate him. I think you’re supposed to hate him, but not enough to want to turn the game off.

Look, I’d like to solve the mystery of Rainy Woods. I really would. Even though the humor is very much not to my tastes, I am fascinated by the world that’s been built, but not fascinated enough to have to jump through all the assorted hoops that are in my way. There are a lot of hoops, and the end of each play session had me more frustrated than entertained.

Nerd Girl Goals – December 2021 (#SimulatorGameDec)

Ah, the last Nerd Girl Goals of 2021. I am very much looking forward to changing at least a few things up in the coming year, but for now, let’s talk about December, the month of “nothing ever goes according to plan”!


Really, my only goal for December is to be present for our raid groups’ next Sylvanas kill. Sure, there’s lots of stuff I can (and maybe even should) be working on, but I’m not going to put a whole lot of pressure on myself at the time of year I’m most prone to burn out of every type. I may finally get around to the rest of the 9.1 story, I might just fool around in BFA Islands, or I may just raid-log this month. Any of that is going to be fine with me.

Community Game-Along – #SimulatorGameDec

Picking a main “goal” game under the Simulation umbrella was hard – my library in this genre is deep. However, I’ve been procrastinating starting up Planet Zoo, so I decided to put that at the top of the list for the month.

Subscription Game Service – XBox GamePass for PC

However, I also expect I’ll be playing some Evil Genius 2: World Domination as well on GamePass this month. I have fond memories of the Evil Genius game from 2004, but I don’t really remember ever getting very far. I don’t honestly know what to expect from this one – reviews have been all over the place, there’s a bunch of weird paid DLC, and … I’m not sure I’m enthused enough about it to drop real money on it. Which, really, is exactly why I keep my GamePass sub most of the time.

As has become my habit, I am not adding anything else significant to my December goals. What I do want to make some time to do, however, is make some notes about what I’d like to change about the blog in the coming year. I really enjoyed the posts I did during Blaugust about what was working for me, and what ideas I had that didn’t really pan out the way I’d hoped. I am finding that I’m not putting the energy into this that I would prefer to be, and some of that is just getting in my own way.

In Review – November 2021

I may be feeling like I dropped the ball on a lot this month (although, I also was really overly ambitious!), my gaming hours were way up from last month!

Most notably, my WoW time was higher than it has been since I re-upped my subscription several months ago, and that’s almost entirely due to the 9.1.5 changes. Probably more than half that time was spent on Island Expeditions, and I’ve collected a bunch of pets, a handful of transmog items, and a whole bunch of doubloons. Which is great, but not as great as my guild taking down Sylvanas for the first time mid-month, but I unfortunately missed out on that particular raid night. I have completely moved back to my shaman full time, and I did enough Torghast to swap my legendary over to my cloak, so overall, decent progress on my goals in November.

I also played two games to completion this month, Unpacking and Grow: Song of the Evertree. Despite my best intentions, playing through Unpacking was the only use I got from my GamePass subscription this month, despite having downloaded quite a few games.

With the majority of my played time spend with World of Warcraft, Grow: Song of the Evertree, and Wildermyth, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on #VNNovember; my first choice didn’t thrill me, and I never even loaded up any of my alternates. Although I plan to see it through the end of the year, I think I’m losing interest in keeping up with the Community Game-Along. It’s a great concept, but the themes often are a stretch for me, and I can’t help but feel like it works better for folks who stream than people like me, who just write about things when we’re done with them.

I’m a few days away from finishing up my cross-stitch project, and about a half dozen episodes from finishing up with Castle, so I’m on schedule with that at least. However, I’m resigned to missing my 2021 GoodReads goal (although I did finish two books in November), and I totally spaced on IntPiPoMo. I had some cool ideas, but I never put the pieces together. Going into the final month of 2021, I know I have to ease up on goal-setting, because December is almost always a difficult month for me.

With 2022 just around the corner, though, I’m starting to brainstorm a bit about what’s next.

Quick Look – T-Minus 30

Sometimes, I really like a game with a hard time limit. In T-Minus 30, you have 30 real time minutes to harvest resources, develop an infrastructure, and build as many rockets as you can to get people off the planet before it gets destroyed. You’re not going to save them all. You’re not going to even come close.

Including the one tutorial level, there are 10 different scenarios that, honestly, play just about the same; although I have yet to replay any so I’m not sure if they’re static or just themed. You can also generate custom maps. No matter the map you’re playing on, you have the exact same goal – build as many rockets as you can. The real longevity of the game comes from the scenario ratings – the more people you save, the more stars you get at the end of the level. There are even leaderboards if you want to see how you measure up to other players.

Unlike a lot of city building & resource management games, speed matters in T-Minus 30. It’s not a relaxing game, but the game play loop is satisfying, and I found myself desperately clicking as time ran out to try to save just a few more people.

Game Over – Grow: Song of the Evertree

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.

Quick Look – PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness (#VNNovember)

It’s been over a week now since I tried out PSYCHO-PASS: Mandatory Happiness. I kept procrastinating writing about it, though, because I tried to tell myself I was going to go back to it. However, I’ve now accepted that, while it absolutely might be a great addition to someone who loves the anime it’s based on, it’s just not really for me, as someone completely unfamiliar with the constructs of the universe.

While you’re not exactly thrown into the middle of a story, the game doesn’t feel like it makes any attempt to introduce the player to the setting. Maybe that’s intentional – the character I chose to play as has a very specific sort of convenient amnesia. She can still function within the world, knows the rules of this society and her job, she just doesn’t remember anything about herself. It didn’t feel like that was any sort of attempt to allow the player to imprint themselves onto the playable character – I think that the protagonist’s story would have resolved on some level in the course of playing through the story. But it’s an odd set-up – if the character isn’t invested in herself, how is the player supposed to care?

I played through the first full chapter. I liked the procedural-ness of the game – making decisions about how to investigate a case with the risk of a wrong choice getting someone killed. But I couldn’t get past feeling detached from the setting. While it seems obvious that the characters would have a full understanding of the society they lived in, and their roles within in (weird-ass amnesia notwithstanding), I would have liked something like a “previously on” to get me up to speed.

Clearly, I’m just not the target market for this particular anime spin-off. It’s just unfortunate because even in my short play time, I could see how this could have come together to make it more enjoyable for newcomers. I have a soft spot for almost all media that revolves around solving a mystery, but I couldn’t chew my way through so much weirdness to get to the meat of this one.

Game Over – Unpacking

It was a pleasant surprise to see Unpacking pop up on XBox Game Pass for PC hours before it was slated to officially release, and on a night where I didn’t have much else that I needed to be doing. I didn’t intend to complete the game, mind, you just take a slightly closer look to see if – at least for me – it was something I’d want to spend enough time with to justify what felt like a rather steep asking price of $20.

Now, I don’t make games, and I don’t even have any aspirations to make games. Sure, I get an idea every now and then for something that I think would make for a fantastic game, but I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of where to start. What I do know is that every game takes infinitesimally more work than anyone who has never made a game could ever imagine.

This digression is a round about apology for what I’m about to say next: after playing from start to finish, I would be furious if I spent $20 on this one.

Which is not to say there were not parts of it I loved very much. The care that went into making sure the environmental storytelling was spot and would make the player feel something cannot be understated. In fact, I’d say that for me, the story was probably the best part of the game – it was masterfully crafted without actually saying much of anything at all. The only text in the entire game is a single sentence at the end of each level. Still, I feel like I learned a lot about the nameless protagonist to whom all of this stuff belonged throughout the years.

And at first, the gameplay is also immensely satisfying. But as there are more room to unpack, and more objects that just don’t seem to fit where the game wants you to put them, every level ended in a burst of frustration. Maybe it’s because I am a person who lives my life in clutter, but some of placement puzzles felt too rigid. Why can I put something on this windowsill, but not that one? Why can I move some of the stuff that’s already present, but not all of it? Why must the ice cream scoop live in a drawer instead of on a shelf? I realize it’s a game, and a game must have some sort of success and/or fail state, but I dreaded the last few minutes of each level. In a game that’s all about putting things where the player thinks they should be, I hated looking for the one or two items that the game insisted were still out of place, because damnit, isn’t the whole game about me – the player – deciding what to do with my things?

But my biggest gripe is the length of the game relative to its price point. I was done in less than three hours, and as I felt like the story was the best part of the game, I just don’t see it as having any replay value. Having followed the developers on Twitter, it felt as if the concept really resonated with people, and maybe they just set the price at what the market will bear, but I know I would have felt ripped off. For the asking price, I would expect a second (and maybe third) protagonist’s story. For the game I played, I’d expect a retail price of about $10, half of what the game sells for.

Truthfully, I’m kind of annoyed with myself for this way of thinking. I really have been enjoying compact but fulfilling experiences lately, and Unpacking came so close to hitting that mark for me. But in a world where there are so many games taking up space on my virtual shelves, I just don’t think I want to try to find a place for this one. I’m glad I played it, don’t get me wrong, but I have no need to carry it around with me.