Hidetaka ‘SWERY’ Suehiro is a strange man. His surreal style of writing has been the object of ire and admiration in equal measure and games like his Twin-Peaks’ em up Deadly Premonition or the ill-fated episodic adventure D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die have been met with decidedly polarised responses. Over the years, his name has become practically synonymous with games filled to the brim with bizarre mechanics, absurdist dialogue, and often unparalleled jank.
In spite of the obvious flaws, however, there’s always been something undeniably fascinating about his work, a fact that his huge cult following can attest to, and if you’re one of those people who is, like me, absolutely obsessed with all things SWERY it seems that his latest title, The Good Life, will be right up your street.
Money Makes the World Go Round
Thrust into the well-worn shoes of the hotshot New York journalist Naomi Hayward, players are immediately introduced to the crux of the plot. Naomi is in severe debt and, at the behest of her employer The Morning Bell paper, has been tasked with solving the mystery of Rainy Woods - an English countryside village which considers itself the 'happiest town in the world' - in order to repay it. Soon, she discovers that the town's citizens, including herself, can inexplicably transform into cats or dogs and sets out in search of answers.
Matters are soon even further complicated by the brutal murder of a resident and without revealing too much, a somewhat slow start soon gives way to a full-blown conspiracy, stuffed with twists and turns in equal parts dramatic and absurd. You have to be prepared to suspend your disbelief in order to enjoy some of the most ridiculous revelations, which may prove a little too much for some, but everything is kept so delightfully unexpected that I found it hard not to find myself gripped. There are also a fair number of genuinely hilarious lines, particularly from the snarky omnipresent narrator, which stood out among the rest. The haphazard mixture of recorded dialogue, pre-rendered cutscenes, and unvoiced text can admittedly disrupt the flow and make an already convoluted plot a little hard to follow at times but I thankfully never found myself left entirely clueless as to what was going on.
A Trip to Rainy Woods
As with many of SWERY's previous games, much of the focus in The Good Life has been creating a lavishly detailed virtual world for players to explore. With an adorable doll-house aesthetic, the town of Rainy Woods was certainly a setting that I enjoyed spending time in and the plethora of side-quests, each tied to one of the many unique NPCs who populate the town, mean that you're never left wanting something to do. Aside from the completion of side-quests, Naomi's chief means of income is photography.
Armed with a trusty camera, players can take photos of practically anything and upload them to the fictional social media site Flamingo to gain revenue from traffic. Every week, certain keywords indicate which kinds of photos are trending and allow you to make the best use of your limited upload slots. Popular photos accumulate likes and help you gain followers, in turn leading to increasingly high payouts.
All the mechanics are fairly basic, but can still prove a lot of fun, and having a relatively simple way to increase your income is incredibly useful. Money, as in life, is almost essential for your enjoyment, and keeping a careful eye on your bank balance is a must. For one thing, having a lot of money makes story progression easier, with some plot-vital items being available to purchase rather than scavenge. It is also important for keeping Naomi healthy as home-cooked meals in the local restaurant or a quick trip for drinks at the pub can quickly fill up the various Sims-like bars or icons which monitor everything from any diseases you have to hunger and tiredness. If you're completely out of money though, it's not all bad news as finding vegetable seeds to grow on the farming plots outside your house is relatively straightforward.
A Less Than Perfect Town
As mentioned before, Naomi can transform into either a cat or a dog, with the player being able to switch between the two at the simple press of a button and the unique abilities granted by each presents some interesting gameplay possibilities. Cats are more agile, able to climb at pre-determined spots, whilst dogs can pick up scents to follow trails. It would have been nice to see more made of this outside of the main questline but these skills still manage to provide a decent change of pace whenever they are called upon.
Navigation is initially a chore, with having to walk from one side of the huge map to another becoming the biggest annoyance of the early hours of the game, but relief is thankfully provided by the introduction of sheep riding. With a special flute, Naomi can tame and ride sheep at any given time, making movement considerably faster. These mechanics are even used in a racing minigame which proved a refreshing break from normal traversal.
Unfortunately, both sheep riding and animal transformations feel a bit unpolished, a fact which isn't helped by the general sluggishness of animations throughout the game. There are also some issues like the fairly repetitive music loops or the occasional annoying bug, like falling through the world trying to shear a sheep, that lend the experience an overall unpolished air. These problems are nothing new for fans of SWERY however, and their impacts are fairly easy to overlook once the game is in full swing.
Harder to overlook however, is the performance on the Nintendo Switch. Sadly, The Good Life did not survive the transition to handheld unscathed and the iffy framerate in combination with the low resolution picture and texture pop-in make this by far the worst way to play. It's hard to tell how much of this is the result of poor optimisation or hardware limitations (or even a bit of both) but it is worth bearing this in mind if Switch is your platform of choice.
The Good Life - Review
At its core, The Good Life is a celebration of all things SWERY for better and for worse. Whilst a player completely unfamiliar with the auteur’s esoteric design decisions is unlikely to find anything of value on the surface of this rather haphazardly constructed RPG, lying beneath, for those who know where to look, is a compelling life simulation filled with memorable characters and idiosyncratic systems to explore. There are persistent annoyances for sure, but any grievances are quickly overshadowed by the rural charm that The Good Life carries in spades.
TechRaptor's The Good Life review was conducted on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
- Engrossing world with enjoyable characters
- Often hilarious dialogue
- Cute art direction
- Very slow start
- Plot can be hard to follow
- Sometimes lacks polish