Title: Mineko's Night Market
Developer: Meowza Games
Release Date: September 26, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Humble Games
Genre: Sim Adventure
We’d all love a fresh start in life, and although change can be a scary concept, new horizons can often feel revitalizing, rejuvenating, and liberating. We can make new friends, take up new hobbies, and even discover totally new skills, which can open up totally new paths for us. Emulating this sort of experience is commonplace in video games. In fact, it’s become a very popular genre, to the point that dozens of these new-life sims are released every few months. Mineko’s Night Market is an example, and it attempts to do something a little different with both its art style, its narrative, and its gameplay.
Mineko’s Night Market has you play as Mineko, a young girl who has just moved to a rural island with her father. However, the village is a bit run down, and the local Night Market has fallen into hard times. Not only that, men-in-black-style agents have been invading the island and have been kidnapping all of the local cats. Mineko has to use her skills to both reinvigorate interest in the Night Market and investigate just what the mysterious agents are after. And just what does the mysterious creature known as Nikko have to do with all of this?
The plot has those core threads and isn’t too complex. It doesn’t take itself seriously and keeps things lighthearted, witty, and charming. The sense of humor is probably the strongest suit of the narrative overall; I definitely caught myself chuckling here and there. Still, the comedy might be a bit too self-aware for some, as it often pokes fun at itself, and I’d imagine some people might not vibe with how quirky it is. But for a game that is certainly catered to a general audience, it feels perfectly natural and at home here.
The mystery aspects of the story are a little undercooked and feel somewhat simplistic. The game reveals things piece by piece after you complete one of the core objectives in your journal, but it’s nothing too surprising or shocking. But again, with a game this lighthearted and jovial, I didn’t exactly expect a lot of drama and tension. This is a laid-back experience with a relaxed mystery that seeks to both charm and tickle the player rather than push them to the edge of their seat.
This charm extends to the game’s visuals; by far, the art style is the game’s strongest point. The character designs are both simplistic and full of personality, while the environments are beautiful, looking like they just jumped out of a children’s storybook. From head to toe, this game is adorable; especially when you pet one of the game’s many, many cats. When those cats start following you around, too, it’s just so endearing that it’s hard not to fall under the spell this game is casting. The game wants you to feel at home, and with its warm presentation, it’s easy to feel comfortable.
Even the music is relaxing and soothing, adding ample ambiance to each of the areas in the game. None are particularly catchy, but they certainly do their job to keep the player within the game’s intended vibe. Everything here is intended to make the player like they’re living an idealized rural fantasy.
Although I’ve been very positive about things so far, I feel like this is where I have to start talking about the gameplay. Much of your time is spent collecting items to use in crafting. Collecting these ingredients takes up energy, which you can replenish with food. Crafting happens at your multipurpose crafting table at home, and by completing a short microgame, you create your item. Items can be either sold at the village store, given to a villager in need, or they can be sold at the titular Night Market.
The Night Market takes place every in-game Saturday, and there you can sell any item you’ve crafted or harvested to earn much more money than you’d expect to get from the local store. In concept, this idea is strong, as you can set the price high or low, and you often have to haggle with the customer to find a price that is right for both of you. The Night Market itself starts small and eventually grows much bigger with the business you bring in. Special events at the end of each Night Market also help to make each one feel like something to look forward to. They’re definitely a point of excitement, as you get a lot of money very fast, and this, in turn, fuels your crafting empire.
However, there’s very little strategy to choosing what to sell; at the end of each market, they tell you the theme of the next one, and while this helps guide you, it often felt like it didn’t change my performance that much. Early on, you often can’t stick to the themes anyway, as you don’t have the required tools to make certain items. But I was still fine, using the items I had been making up until then anyway. I don’t mind if the systems are simple; it just feels as if they are too simple here. If there was a much larger focus on crafting objects to fit the theme, then it wouldn’t stick out so much as an issue.
Similarly, the day-to-day grind feels just like that, a grind. You end up doing a lot of the same things each day because the game simply doesn’t give you a lot of options. You either collect ingredients for crafting, or you progress the main story. Often the second option goes hand in hand with the first anyway; you progress through the main story to unlock new locations where you can collect more ingredients. The big ‘choice’ is basically deciding what you want to focus on crafting. Time progresses when returning to the village after visiting one of these gathering locations, and you only get the opportunity to pick two each day. This just feels very limited in scope; you craft, you gather, progress the story, and do fetch quests for the villagers.
Not a lot of thought has been put into those fetch quests, either. These quests are meant to unlock almost all of the crafting recipes, but until you do one, you don’t know what recipe you’ll be given as your reward. If a particular quest needs a crafted item that you don’t have the recipe for, then you have to just try and guess who will give you the recipe. Sure, this encourages you not to focus on a single person’s quests and to tend to everyone’s needs, but the game also doesn’t provide a way for you to keep track of these. Your journal has a page showing all of the villagers you’ve met and their current relationship ranking with Mineko, but it doesn’t show you what item you need to give them for their current quest. It just makes doing them feel like more of a chore than was perhaps intended.
The crafting system also lacks some finesse; knowing what you need for each recipe can be important, but you can only check what ingredients are necessary at the crafting table itself. There’s no recipe menu in your journal, so you just have to memorize what you need. This isn’t difficult if you’re focused on making one item, but if you want to make multiple items and have to collect several specific amounts for them, this can be a real pain.
The game feels a little bit unfinished in some places too. There’s a weird graphical pop-in at certain points. I’ve seen cats clipping through the floor of certain locations, and your father just seems to pop out of existence sometimes when exiting your room. For a game with such a focus on its gorgeous style and charming and appealing presentation, it’s a little jarring to see such irregularities popping up so frequently.
At the price Mineko’s Night Market is being sold for, it at least has plenty of content for you to experience. With one in-game month lasting a good ten hours, you’re set for a long game if you want to see it through to the end of the first year. It’s a question if this content is engaging enough to really be worth sticking with.
There’s no doubt an appeal here for fans of cozy experiences, and Mineko’s Night Market delivers all the charm one could expect from this genre. But the experience is shortlived as it offers little focus on player expression. Similar titles present a much wider range of activities to invest yourself in that makes the experience feel like your own. However, there really isn’t any of that here. It all feels just a little too static and unimpressive. For a younger audience, this could be an entry-level introduction to this wholesome genre, but there may be better ways to spend an evening than at the Night Market.
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