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Hot Springs Story Review: Cute Follow-Up

Kairosoft hit the App Store running last year with their quirky, unexpected Game Dev Story. Now they’re looking to follow it up with another sim management game, Hot Springs Story. The result is a less compelling, more run-of-the-mill time management game, but one that’s still fun.

In Hot Springs Story (HSS), you manage a Japanese hot springs spa. Your goal is to develop your tiny business into a thriving resort destination, complete with baths, restaurants, Pachinko machines, and other luxuries. You also get to invest in advertising, partner with local businesses, and buy upgrades from suppliers, all with the intent of making your business even more successful. You have 20 years to make it happen … if you don’t run out of money first!

There’s no way to not compare HSS to Game Dev Story (GDS). They use the same basic interface, same 8-bit visual design, and even many very similar play elements. Kairosoft very much tried to take the things that worked in GDS and ported them here, and then added an entire layer to it in the form of Sims-like construction options (instead of the static offices of GDS). The games share a LOT.

Some of it really works. The GDS formula was a great one, and it’s still great here. The cute 8-bit pixel art is still great, and the colors here are bright and full of pastels — much more visually appealing than GDS’s dour office colors. The interface has been improved with the addition of landscape mode and zoom (both necessary for the building elements that this game has that GDS lacked). The chipset soundtrack is still endearing but annoying.

But the truth is, this is not GDS. It’s not as fun, not as fast, not as strangely compelling as GDS was on the first play through. Part of this may be the setting: a Japanese hot springs resort is likely to be far less immediately appealing to the average gamer than a game design studio. Part of what made GDS work for so many players was that so many of us would love to “live the dream” of the game.

HSS, on the other hand,  is more likely to have appeal to the Diner Dash / Supermarket Mania crowd.  There’s less character development here and more building and upgrading of facilities. You spend most of your time making additions to your spa and then targeting segments of the population (teachers, businessmen, etc.). It uses the same style interface as GDS, and it all works well. It feels a lot more like a traditional time management game, with less of the “plot” that GDS had. There was a level of fun in developing sequels, hiring and firing characterful employees, “leveling up” their skills, etc., that’s lacking in HSS.

That said, HSS is a pretty fun game, once you figure it out. Figuring it out will take you some time, though. Expect your first, and maybe even your second, effort to flounder (I didn’t even see my first spa to completion before starting over). Everything you learned about playing GDS applies here, but there’s more elements and more variables to balance. It’s all a little more obtuse, too — things aren’t always presented as clearly in their effects as they were with GDS … and even GDS wasn’t perfectly clear at all times. Add to that, HSS has a terribly anemic tutorial in the beginning. In GDS, your assistant pretty much walked you through your first year; here, you’re barely given the basic controls before you’re left to your own devices. I would love to see a more helpful tutorial helping the player figure out how to attract certain customers, how to decorate properly, etc.

If you loved Game Dev Story for its style and game play, and if you’re generally a fan of time management games, then Hot Springs Story will deliver some fun. It’s not as brilliantly executed, nor is it as striaghtforward, as Kairosoft’s last game, but genre fans will still find it worth the trip. Those who loved GDS primarily because it was about game design, however, will probably want to give this one a miss. HSS just doesn’t have the same heart as GDS had.

Hot Springs Story - Kairosoft Co.,Ltd

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