Hot Springs Story Review (iOS – iPhone, iPod)

“Not Game Dev Story 2, but still great!”

Main

Main screen turn on.

Hot Springs Story is developer Kairosoft’s follow-up to the popular Game Dev Story. For me (and probably many others), what made Game Dev Story so intriguing was how it put you in the shoes of a game developing company, letting you develop million-selling games (which you can name after your favourite real-life games as a tribute… or parody), multi-million-selling games, consoles and more — something which gamers would find right up their alley. So how does Hot Springs Story, which offers a whole new (and possibly alien) setting, fare? In short, Hot Springs Story is every bit as addictive as its predecessor, and in some cases, even more so.

Gameplay

As its name suggests, Hot Springs Story puts you in charge of managing a Japanese Hot Springs Inn. You start off with a small inn with minimal facilities and a handful of guests visiting each day (or month in the game’s context), but it gradually becomes a large, popular inn that is twice its original size with lots of guests coming in and out. This time round, you can actually design your own inn, complete with land expansions, environmental decorations and facilities. In some ways, this offers a more hands-on experience than Game Dev Story did, although from time to time, you will find yourself simply waiting for your bank account or guests’ popularity to rise.

New guests, or “Targets”, are unlocked through Investments, as with most facilities and decorations. Raise a target’s popularity to a high enough level, and he/she/they (there are groups as well) will recommend a new target to the inn, from Pop Singers (complete with pink hair) to Rich Heirs. Each time a target “levels up”, they bring with them more money to spend in your inn.

Targets

The lion, the witch, and the... oh wait, never mind.

After meeting certain conditions, you can also invite special guests to your inn. If they are satisfied with their stay, they will offer to set up shop and grant you access to new facilities. As you unlock more facilities, you will find that some provide bonuses when placed near each other, while others will have the opposite effect. For example, building a Massage Chair next to a Tatami Room makes it more popular among Adults and Seniors, but placing a Karaoke Room reduces its popularity (or compatibility as the game calls it) instead. Add bath effects and decorations to the mix, and you will find yourself trying to create an optimal layout to attract guests to your inn.

Indeed, a large part of the game’s fun comes from trying out various layouts and experimenting with different facilities. It is also the way you are meant to play the game, as there are no options to move a facility once you have built them. The game only lets you remove them, so you will find yourself destroying parts of your inn and re-building it. This may be the cause of frustration if you accidentally place a building on the wrong spot (which may happen on iPhones, especially when you are zoomed out), forcing you to demolish it and re-build. It seems like a chore at first (especially with the lack of funds), but as the game progresses, you will get used to it, and in fact, you will do it often. You will want to re-build your inn from time to time to accommodate new facilities or unlocked effects, and doing so will prove to be more productive than haphazardly building your facilities all over the place.

Layout

An example of how to achieve the In Crowd bath effect.

While Game Dev Story had its annual game convention and Game of the Year awards, Hot Springs Story has bi-annual guides which you can enter and get your inn ranked with other inns, and rewards you with cash prizes regardless of your rank. Of course, getting higher ranks net better rewards, including items such as Popularity Seeds, which boosts your facilities’ popularity. You can also buy such items and other upgrades from the store, which is now a permanent fixture in the game (compared to the item seller in Game Dev Story).

Guides

There are 8 guides for you to top.

Bonus/secret characters make a re-appearance in this game too, giving you access to special facilities when unlocked. As with Game Dev Story, the game “ends” after 15 years, during which your score is calculated. You can continue to play after that for as long as you want, but should you choose to start a new game, certain bonuses will carry over — some have to be unlocked before the 15 years, while others will carry over regardless of when they were unlocked. This is one way which will keep you playing after you have “finished” the game. Although the game mentions an online ranking, the only scores I see are that of your own in the game’s starting menu and in the “Hi Scores” menu in-game. Game Dev Story was recently updated with Game Center support for achievements and leaderboards, so presumably we’ll see the same treatment given to Hot Springs Story eventually.

Graphics/Sound

The game’s art style will be instantly recognizable to those who have played Game Dev Story, but those of you who have will find that Hot Springs Story is more colourful and vibrant due to its outdoor settings. The seasonal changes help in this too — Plum Trees blossom in Spring and provide a nice pink colour; Maple Trees turn orange in Autumn; Winter covers everything with snow. The different facilities and numerous types of guests you can unlock provide variety to the game as well. You start off with the same few guests each time, but as you progress you will find all sorts of guests coming to your inn. Landscape mode is enabled this time round (granted, you only had to look at one office in Game Dev Story), giving you a better view of your inn. You can also zoom in/out by pinching on the screen.

Winter

It always snows in winter.

When you start to get lots of guests, the game may start to lag slightly, especially when the screen is at the entrance for some reason. The game provides an option to change the graphics setting to optimize performance, which solves the problem for the most part. In some cases it can still lag, but it is less noticeable. That said, I am playing the game on iPhone 3GS, so those with iPhone 4 or iPads (or iPad 2 now) should have better luck. Also, from what I have heard (and seen from screenshots), the game looks decent when enlarged on the iPad screen as well. The only sound you will hear in this game pretty much comes from the in-game track as you play, but if you are like me, you will find yourself too engrossed in the game to notice about the sound anyway.

Conclusion

Before this, the only sim-building games I’ve played were pretty much Roller Coaster Tycoon andZoo Tycoon (and The Sims, if you count the building mode). Both of them were released almost a decade ago, and somehow I didn’t play any others since then. I enjoyed playing those games and Hot Springs Story has revitalized my interest in the genre.

Screenshot

What's a hot spring without yukatas?

All in all, if you have played Game Dev Story and enjoyed it, you will most probably enjoy Hot Springs Story as well. It adds on many gameplay features while retaining the immersive sim-management elements from its predecessor. And if you haven’t played Game Dev Story, do yourself a favour, and get it along with Hot Springs Story. They’ll keep you occupied for a long, long time… until Game Dev Story 2 is released (whenever that is).

Good points:

  • Same addictive gameplay as Game Dev Story that will keep you playing for hours at length, and more
  • Endearing and colourful pixel art

Bad points:

  • Lack of move system when building
  • No actual online leaderboard (through Game Center or any other obvious outlets) to compare your scores with others, if that’s what floats your boat
  • “Fast” game speed is only available after you “beat” the game once
  • Lags on certain occasions on iPhone 3GS, but not bad enough to detract gameplay

Get it if you:

  • Like simulation-building games
  • Like pixel art
  • Like Game Dev Story
  • Have a secret desire to manage a hot springs inn

You might not want to get it if you:

  • Like Game Dev Story solely for its setting

Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
Hot Springs Story was released on the Android Market on 28 April 2011, while I can’t say for sure, most of the review should apply to that as well.
Header source: Android Market page, I’ll probably make one myself… eventually. Screenshots by myself.


Game info:

Developer/Publisher: Kairosoft Co. Ltd
Release date: 28 February 2011 (iOS, non-universal), 28 April 2011 (Android)
Related links: iTunes App Store Full and Lite versions, Android Market Full and Lite versions, KairoPark, Kairosoft’s iPhone/Android page (English & Japanese)

Also, a FAQ/Strategy Guide by yours truly. Check here if you need help regarding the game mechanics, unlockables, tips, bath and inn layouts guides and suggestions etc. Also, check out the Bath and Inn Layout Guide I posted.

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