You’ve probably strolled past stores like the Body Shop and Bath & Body Works countless times while at your local mall, or perhaps you’ve stepped inside to check out the scented lotions, fancy creams and rinses. You glance at one of the price tags and gasp. "Heck, why don’t I add lemon zest to a bar of soap and charge $10," you mutter to yourself. Here’s your chance.
Lavender’s Botanicals lets you create, manage and sell personal care products all over the world. Similar to what Big Splash Games has done with the tasty Chocolatier series, in this economic simulation game you must travel the globe in search of the best ingredients, acquire new recipes, interact with unique characters and turn a profit by selling your creations to stores.
The game starts of slowly, introducing you to the female protagonist, Lavender, who lives in Bangor, Maine, and decides to go into business for herself. You buy 30 units of lavender and 30 units of lotion blend from a merchant ship and combine them to make a scented lotion which you then sell in the local store (by setting the price and select number of units). Next thing you know you’re jet-setting to Kyoto to buy 15 units of cucumber and 15 units of goat milk for a new moisturizing cream. Hey, maybe you can buy lavender cheaper in Japan to turn a higher profit when you sell your specialty creams in the U.S.? You get the idea.
Much of the game involves accomplishing missions laid out for you at the bottom of the screen, such as buy this, sell that, travel here or there, and you’ll be constantly checking with Lavender’s laptop for new ingredients to find (honey, lemon, aloe, sea salt) and new products to make (anti-wrinkle cream, clarifying lotion, nurturing body milk).
In fact, your formulas are divided into various categories such as the aforementioned skin products, along with hair products (anti-dandruff shampoo, split ends repairing balm), aroma products (body spray, potpourri), body products (detox juice, firming cream) and premium products (vitalizing beeswax soft soap and deep balance bamboo tea).
Travel on the map – to South America, Africa, Australia, India, China, Europe and North America – and you’ll be exposed to new products, ingredients and colorful characters who will give you quests of their own or request an exchange of services or products.
Creating the new products introduces mini-game puzzles to players, and this is where some of the problems with Lavender’s Botanicals begin. Not only do these games feel like an afterthought instead of being part of the main experience, but they’re not very good either. For example, when “making” a product you must play a Zuma-like ball-shooting game, where you must aim a colored ball towards a snaking chain so that it touches at least two other adjacent balls of the same color, which causes them to disappear. Later on you’ll play a Bejeweled-esque Match-3 game, a Concentration-like memory game and others – but they’re all unimaginative in their execution. In the memory game, for example, it repeats the same two “cards” throughout the entire board so it’s a cinch to complete.
Despite the somewhat thorough 22-page tutorial, I also found myself confused with some economic tasks, as it would say something like buy these products from here or there or bring items to the store, but when I clicked on the appropriate area a message might appear saying something along the lines of “you can’t do this yet.” Hmm.
Another beef is the annoying soundtrack that sounds like elevator Muzak, plus you can hear when a song portion stops and loads a new section.
Shortcomings aside, Lavender’s Botanicals is a very good game – it offers more than 200 products to create and 17 cities to visit, and along with your goal to run a successful business (by buying low and selling high) you can complete quests for various characters you’ll meet throughout the adventure. It might not be a mainstream premise, nor will the lukewarm mini-games hold a player’s attention long, but it’s a fun and unique simulation nonetheless.