Winkeltje: The Little Shop is a game that immediately caught my eye. Ever since I first played Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale, I've always been interested in checking out games that let you run your own shop. A recent foray into the world of Moonlighter left me craving more and so I checked out Winkeltje for our Coverage Club series. I then ended up putting a good few more hours into the game and seeing just how far I could take it.
My first immediate question was this: what the heck does "winkeltje" mean? Apparently, it's Dutch for "little shop", something that means this game is technically called Little Shop: The Little Shop and I find that terribly amusing.
Winkeltje: The Little Shop operates on a very straightforward premise that should be well-familiar to fans of this niche subgenre. You begin the game with a tiny item shop, a mountain of debt, and a few coins in your pocket. You use those coins to set your shop up, sell items, and hopefully keep up with your ever-increasing debt payments (which happen to have an APR that would make a banker faint).
A single day in Winkeltje: The Little Shop is hectic and takes up less than five minutes of real-world time.
Unlike many games of this genre, Winkeltje: The Little Shop does not have you running around in the game world crafting items or fighting monsters in dungeons. You spend 100% of your time in your shop. At night, you can move furniture around, expand the shop, and craft items. During the day, you open the shop, sell items, and buy stock from traveling merchants. You can craft during the daytime as well, but it takes longer to do it in realtime and is best avoided.
The first thing I found surprising was the shop building system. You can freely place furniture anywhere in the shop at any angle. A grid system is available if you'd like to keep things orderly, but it's certainly possible to be very stylish with how you place things. NPC shoppers do a solid job of working their way through the tightest spaces, so you truly do have the freedom to set things up however you like.
I also like that you have the capability to buy and sell furniture at no loss. I can buy a table for 100 coins, use it for a week, and sell it back at the same price with no problems. While it would be understandable to sell furniture at a loss (as one might expect after years of playing traditional role-playing games), it can make things awfully inflexible for players who might want to experiment and try new things. This is sacrificing realism for convenience and I think it makes for a nice fit.
The gameplay loop in Winkeltje: The Little Shop is a simple affair that works well. Craft items, restock your shelves, and open your doors. Sell items throughout the day, restock shelves as you go, and (hopefully) buy items at better prices from traveling merchants than you might get from the wholesaler. Close out your day by crafting items, restocking your shelves, and potentially expanding or rearranging your shop. A single day in Winkeltje will pass in less than five minutes, making this game an excellent choice for short bursts of gaming.
That's not to say that I didn't find some flaws in my time with this shopkeeper simulator from Sassybot. Furniture placement occasionally felt a bit clunky. There were more than a few times where I tried squeezing a table into a corner and simply couldn't. I also found (much to my frustration) that I was wholly unable to place shelves on the outermost walls of the shop for no reason that I could discern.
The size of your shop always seems just a bit too small. I constantly struggled with finding shelf space for selling all of my goods; I'd expand only to find one or two new items introduced and a need to rearrange how my shelves were set up.
Even in the end game, the shop in Winkeltje: The Little Shop feels far too tiny, although I imagine part of this problem was a result of my gameplay strategy. In my case, I reasoned (perhaps rightly so) that the smartest way to play was to maintain a large stockpile of raw materials and craft the items that I needed as I went. It almost always was cheaper, but the best prices for items only came around once every few days in some cases and so I reasoned that I needed to maintain a healthy stock of raw materials.
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Downtime in Winkeltje: The Little Shop is spent purchasing items, crafting items from raw materials, and restocking shelves. It is ill-advised to buy from the wholesaler if you can avoid it; traveling merchants almost always have better deals.
That meant that the best way to do things was to buy in bulk and have a lot of storage — I ended up having 1,622 units of storage in the end, taking up nearly 40% of my floor space. I think there really ought to be an increase in the maximum lot size for end-game players so that they will have the freedom to create a more interesting shop rather than trying to cram things into every available corner.
Thankfully, I encountered very few bugs throughout my 23 hours with Winkeltje: The Little Shop. The only thing that seemed off was that the wholesaler Lucas would walk through the closed door if he happened to arrive just as the shop closed. Other than that, I had no problems whatsoever with this game.
The devs are highly responsive folks, updating the game every two or three weeks and adding features requested by the community. There seems to be a small but dedicated following for this Early Access title. I only expect that to grow as it catches on and expands into an even better experience. I can't say when the developers will call this one done, but they seem keen on continuing working on this game and improving it for the immediate future based on the pace of its development.
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Random events ensure some variety in gameplay, whether for good or for ill. Multiple events can and do happen simultaneously.
Graphically, Winkeltje has a semi-realistic style that makes for a nice contrast against other games in the genre. The models aren't incredibly complex, but they look awfully good for an indie project and I enjoyed the overall aesthetic. As for the sound, the sound effects are certainly serviceable. The music, however, is an absolute treat and serves as the perfect compliment to your adventures in shopkeeping.
Winkeltje: The Little Shop is a very simple game that is really as straightforward as it seems. Buy some stuff, open your shop, sell some stuff, expand your shop, repeat. It's not a terribly complex game unless you elect to play on the optional harder difficulties. Still, I found myself enraptured whether I played for five minutes or five hours. If the "item shop" subgenre of gaming interests you, this is definitely a game that's well worth your consideration.
TechRaptor previewed Winkeltje: The Little Shop on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developer.