It’s always interesting to play a game outside of your comfort zone. Playing a first-person shooter will almost always be like playing a first-person shooter. As challenging as the puzzles in The Legend of Zelda can be, the series follows a clear format from game to game. So when you get the chance to play something new, when you don’t know what challenges to anticipate, that sense of familiarity is gone. There is a sense of excitement in not knowing. That’s exactly how I felt when starting The Shopkeeper for the first time.
When playing this game for the first time, you will more than likely find yourself in a state of confusion, as part of the game seems to be figuring out how to actually “play” it. Upon launching the game, you are presented with a shopkeeper and a young businessman. The game consists of moving the mouse around to inspect semi-interesting objects lying around an antique shop. However, not everything is clickable. You’ll know an item is clickable because the cursor will change from an arrow to an eye. You need to find the perfect gift for the businessman’s mother-in-law who apparently despises him. That’s it.
"Unfortunately, The Shopkeeper lacks the narrative needed to guide the player."
I almost can’t call this a game, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Shopkeeper is more like a virtual story book. Except readers don’t typically have premeditated knowledge of the plot. It is the author’s responsibility to guide the reader while keeping them engaged. Unfortunately, The Shopkeeper lacks the narrative needed to guide the player.
The Shopkeeper’s formulaic structure quickly becomes tiresome. The young businessman walks into an antique shop where you start clicking random objects. Soon, a short conversation is triggered between the shopkeeper and the businessman, and you’re teleported to another room. You find an elderly woman working at a desk. A couple of clicks around the room, and the player gets to choose from four possible scenarios for the businessman to present to the woman. After some talking, the game sends you back to the businessman entering the antique shop as if nothing happened. Absolutely riveting, right?
"After some talking, the game sends you back to the businessman entering the antique shop as if nothing happened. Absolutely riveting, right?"
While the game doesn’t do the best job at holding the player's attention, there are a few elements that, if executed a little differently, could have made the game a lot better. First, it would help to know the objective of the game. The developer could have presented the story in a manner that allowed for more discovery as the player progressed, but they didn’t. Next, there is the art style. I thought the art style was refreshing. It isn’t done all too often, and it reminded me of playing through a virtual graphic novel. If you’ve ever played or seen the Professor Layton games for the Nintendo 3D(S), then you have a pretty good idea of what the art style was like. Still, this could have been better by simply fine-tuning character movements. I understand that the movements are more representative of an animatic than an actual animated character, but that doesn’t stop them from looking completely unnatural.
The final thing that could have been better is the audio. The lack of any ambient sound ruined the immersion and left me feeling detached. Beyond that, the vocals were stiff and robotic. The shopkeeper stumbled through his lines. The elderly woman sounded like a young 20-year-old with a forced British accent…it didn’t fit. The best voice acting was done by for the young businessman by Jeff Ricketts—an actor known for Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Star Trek: Enterprise. Needless to say, the inclusion of a B-List celebrity won’t necessarily be a huge selling point. That doesn’t stop the developers, though. They list Ricketts’ voice talents as the first “feature” in their game description on Steam.
"While I want so much for this game to be successful, it doesn’t seem to be able to do so."
While The Shopkeeper has a lot of flaws, it gains what structure it does have from powerful elements. With more consideration to detail, this game could have been great. Just writing this makes me want to go back and play it, but I know if I do I’ll end up wishing it was better put together. While I want so much for this game to be successful, it doesn’t seem to be able to do so. However, if you are intrigued by the game’s approach to storytelling, then head over to Steam and pick it up. At the time of writing this, it is only $2.99. So, skip the Red Bull for today and try something new.
Review by: Mike Ackerman | Reviewed on: PC