Thunderbolt logo

Hot Springs Story

After last year’s Game Dev Story left fans salivating for more translations of Kairosoft’s long-running simulation series, it’s a bit anti-climactic following it up with a game like Hot Springs Story. While not a bad second outing by any means and certainly leagues ahead of other simulation offerings on the iPhone, Hot Springs Story makes a broader appeal for an even smaller niche. Rather than leading a troop of unknown developers to become a household name and overthrow the big dogs in the game industry, you’re given empirical control over Japanese bath houses.

screenshot

What’s immediately apparent is that there’s a lot more depth in Hot Springs Story. It solves one of the larger problems with Game Dev Story in leaving the confines of a single-screen corporate high-rise and instead focuses in on the corner of a Japanese town. This allows for scrolling and zooming in, making the location feel less static. It’s an ideal lot for your latest venture, with busy side streets converging outside your hot springs, funneling prospective customers toward the entrance.

Hot Springs Story’s simulation comes in a managerial context. You’re put in charge of micro-managing nearly every aspect of the business and over the course of 16 years (as opposed to Game Dev Story’s 20), are given annual challenges from outlets covering hot springs which imply specific goals. The hooks are provided through sharp game design, keeping you playing for hours at a time, and keeping things moving when it needs to. As seasons change, uncovered areas are topped with snow, plants bloom and provide bonuses for surrounding objects, and this sense of progression provides a meaningful in-game context for the seasons. The typical day moves on swiftly and through the night, the clock speeds right on while your guests sleep.

screenshot

There’s a bit of uncertainty to the touch controls. This is inherently an iPhone-related problem and is less about the game, but there’s not enough precision to allow for any meaningful depth. As such, most games on the iPhone shy away from complex overlays and heavy menus, but Kairosoft simply makes do. The menu buttons are sufficiently large and easily accessible, while some of the in-game selections are reasonably precise. A makeshift mouse cursor’s also provided, which helps out when there’s a large crowd of objects to sort out, but also reminds us of the game’s PC origins in an unclean way.

It’s difficult at first to ascertain exactly how to be successful. Hot Springs Story refuses to dumb anything down and makes up for the lack of an in-depth tutorial with its intuitive design. In building up a business, there are a large number of demographics to appeal to. By investing in local businesses that might be associated with a desired character archetype, you’ll bring in their business and learn through trial-and-error how to co-ordinate designs that appeal to their interests. Providing that you’ve placed the right facilities and grouped related ones together, demographics will quickly level up, providing visitors with more cash to blow at the Pachinko table, or further on, to fund an extended stay.

screenshot

There’s an emphasis on the importance of community contribution that feels genuine. By sharing with your neighbors, you’re not only strengthening the economy for your own benefit, but you’re establishing an entire community centered around bath houses. It provides a feeling of significance and interaction that gives decisions accurate weight while structurally providing a sense of pacing.

The art style continues the tradition of Kairosoft’s signature aesthetic, detailing busy characters and a vibrant setting that brings out the best in the pixel-art. Characters look about the same with some being straight copies alongside the borrowed menus and delightful soundtrack. There’s still a hopeful quality to it that’s strikingly Japanese; everything about the design is positive and straight-faced in nature. In a sense this is a good thing, although in consequence allows little comedic value on the practices of bath houses. This sterility comes as a missed opportunity following on the prior game’s penchant for light-hearted commentary on videogame culture.

screenshot

It’s difficult to draw a distinction between the qualities of Hot Springs Story and Game Dev Story. The latter will be inherently more interesting for gamers and as such, probably fares worse on the iPhone, while Hot Springs Story is more casually slanted but skews for a unique cultural niche. Neither one is disposable, nor are they derivative. As such, they’ll likely continue to be ignored on the platform. Due to premise alone, Hot Springs Story‘s inevitably harder to recommend but is still well worth checking out.

Review based on version 1.1.0

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

Gentle persuasion

Like chit chat? Join the forum.