Review: The Good Life
I’d like to think that given my long stint as a gamer, I have experienced everything that video games have to offer. However, there are times when I am made to realize that is not the case. Unfortunately, those experiences aren’t always positive, as is the case with The Good Life, an RPG adventure game developed by White Owls Inc. and published by PLAYISM.
The Good Life was officially released for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch on October 14, 2021. The Switch version was played for this review.
It’s Raining Cats and Dogs…
The premise of The Good Life’s story promises a fun, if not interesting experience. You play as photographer Naomi Hayward, a New Yorker who was made to travel to a quaint English town called Rainy Woods to uncover its secrets. The company that charged Naomi with this task is also responsible for the astronomical debt she owes. This debt is the motivating factor behind Naomi’s acceptance of the odd request and all of the events that follow her arrival.
Among the many mysteries surrounding Rainy Woods, the most interesting has to be the one we discover on our first night there. The townspeople turn into cats and dogs on a full moon! You’d think uncovering this secret and getting to the bottom of why this happens would be enough to drive the game’s story plot through its 12-hour run time, but no, the people behind The Good Life decided that instead of having one central mystery they would include several (while also never really addressing this one).
In fact, not too long after the prologue, a new mystery is unveiled and Naomi is tasked with finding out the truth. What follows is a rollercoaster of events filled with entirely too many fetch quests and absurd premises. A fake Sherlock Holmes, the legendary sword Excalibur, and a missing cat are just a few of the things coming your way.
Normally, I don’t mind whacky storylines, especially if they are done well. But that’s just it, The Good Life is not presented in a way that is either cohesive or entertaining. The characters often feel like caricatures of themselves (even when they weren’t appearing randomly and without reason), and while what drives them can sometimes have depth, it is often overshadowed by over-the-top dialogue and quirky personality traits that show up at the worst times.
This particular flaw in the narrative is further compounded by the lead character who, despite having so much going on, manages to be a one-dimensional drag through the whole process. Naomi is shallow and self-absorbed, and while there are times when she has moments of clarity, there isn’t a lot that makes her character compelling or enjoyable.
I played The Good Life to get to the bottom of its whodunit mystery because once I started I didn’t feel like I had a choice, but the experience wasn’t particularly enjoyable. I often found myself getting tired of having to read through conversations that were so over the top they were daunting.
The Good Life’s saving grace is that its unique setting did manage to capture one’s attention and sometimes its jokes were funny, but those moments felt like they were few and far between.
Meowntain of Fetch Quests…
When I first started playing The Good Life, my assumption was that the gameplay would consist of taking photographs and exploring the town as either a cat or a dog. After all, Naomi’s stated profession is that she is a photographer. However, it’s more accurate to describe this game as a fetch quest simulator with some daily life mechanics thrown in.
The majority of Naomi’s tasks come in the form of quests you get from either Lucy Turner (the main point of contact at the company Naomi owes money to) or the townspeople. These can range from collecting items, transporting food, or taking pictures.
Quest-based systems aren’t particularly unique, but the repetitive nature of the quests found in this game, along with some development decisions made completing them extremely tedious. One such decision is that you can only activate one quest at a time, so even if you are at a location required by several quests, the game will only acknowledge one. These limitations hindered how efficient I could be with my time by a lot.
Some quests were also timed, which wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t for the game’s fatigue system. Naomi can only run fast for a certain amount of time, and once her gauge reaches zero, she slows down until it is refilled. This gauge is affected by Naomi’s health and can either receive boosts or become depleted based on what she eats or if she gets sick.
There are items meant to address whatever crisis Naomi’s facing at any given time (the game gives you quite a few to deal with including hunger, lack of sleep, a hurt back, etc), but having to make/buy them can slow your advancement so it’s better to keep a good balance between managing her health and addressing her fatigue. The developers probably meant for this feature to feel like a challenge, but to me, it just felt like a big chore, especially when Naomi got sick for no rhyme or reason.
There are a few other things you can do in The Good Life to occupy your time. In fact, one of the primary ways the game allows you to earn money is by uploading Naomi’s pictures to a website called Flamingo. This is both a necessity (living in Rainy Woods is surprisingly expensive) and a fun way to pass the time in between quests. It’s honestly one of the things I enjoyed most about the game, as it both gave me a reason to explore the world map and provided me with a challenge in the form of lining up my pictures with the hot words of the week.
The other mechanics include cooking, planting crops, decorating your home, and gathering materials to either make potions or create new outfits for Naomi. All of these, while interesting additions, felt more like afterthoughts and weren’t particularly engaging. For example, if I wanted to grow a potato, I’d just put the seed in the bin outside and never think about it again until I felt like picking it up. There was no nurturing or attention required.
The last thing I’d like to talk about is The Good Life’s decision to have Naomi transform into a cat/dog. As a cat, Naomi has the ability to scale various walls, while as a dog she can sniff out specific scents and track them. I’m assuming that this feature was meant to fit in with the game’s initial premise of people turning into animals, but it fell very flat in practice. Not only was Naomi’s ability to transform given to her randomly (there were no ties to her method of transformation and the villagers’), but the number of times transforming actually felt useful were very few. The game does have a system in which the characters will interact better with Naomi based on which form she greets them in, but it didn’t feel necessary or rewarding enough to make doing it consistently worth it.
I wish this part of the gameplay had been utilized more, as it could have been pretty interesting to plan out which form to use and how. However, it’s a feature that was mainly required for main storyline quests and not that often at that.
I can’t help but feel like The Good Life would have been a more impressive game if it was released a few years back. As it stands now, the graphics are just too outdated to be noteworthy, and the music does not particularly stand out. There are no tracks I’ll remember days, let alone years from now. In fact, a quick glance at some cutscenes will make you painfully aware of all the texture issues, not to mention the fact that some design choices feel like they came from games found in the early 2000s.
Apparently, the decision to make the game look reminiscent of old PlayStation games was a stylistic one, but I’m not quite sure it hit the mark for me, because without that small bit of knowledge, this type of style would come off as sloppy for this era of videogames.
It is also worth noting that when it comes to music/sounds within the game, there is not a very good transition between exiting different areas or entering cutscenes. Whenever I noticed that sounds would immediately cut off when I switched areas, it made the game feel even more outdated.
The three final gripes I’d like to address in this section are the camera controls, the loading screen, and the in-game controls. The camera control was extremely clunky. Sometimes I’d spin it to look in front of me and it’d go haywire and show me everything but what I wanted to see. Similarly, sometimes when I was controlling Naomi she would just spaz out. This was especially noticeable when she was carrying heavy objects as I could never get her to go where I wanted unless I dropped the object and picked it up facing the direction I wanted her to go in.
The loading screens also felt like they took forever. They weren’t as bad as a recent game I reviewed, but given that this game is supposed to be for more current-gen consoles, I didn’t expect them to take so long or for there to be so many.
The Happiest Town in the World...
Despite Rainy Wood’s assertion, I did not feel like I visited the happiest town in the world. In fact, I more so ended my experience feeling glad it was Naomi who got stuck in that town and not me.
Perhaps The Good Life just came onto the scene too late. It did not meet its initial Kickstarter goal, so I can see how the delay may have cut into what it could have been. There are some aspects of it that are enjoyable, among them the setting and at certain points the story (especially when it gets really quacky because it’s so ridiculous you have to laugh), but these are not enough to offset the myriad of things that are wrong.
Tedious amounts of fetch quests, clunky controls, sloppy presentation/execution, outdated visuals, and a mediocre soundtrack are really hard things to ignore, especially when considering the $29.99 price point. All in all, I’ve heard a lot about SWERY’s games and was looking forward to this experience, so it’s a bummer it fell short.
Review copy provided by PLAYISM for the Nintendo Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.