Everybody loves a fish out of water story – particularly when the fish is a pampered urbanite and the water is an isolated rural community. Schitt’s Creek is just the latest in a long line of examples that also happens to include iWin’s Primrose Lake time-management games.
Primrose Lake: Twists of Fate, the sequel to last year’s Welcome to Primrose Lake, refreshes the fish out of water narrative with a new fish: the “InstaTwit”-obsessed socialite Persimmon Hollister.
It refreshes the gameplay formula a bit, too. Whereas the first Primrose Lake game saw you buying chapters one at a time, Primrose Lake: Twists of Fate is a straight-up free to play game in which you don’t technically need to spend anything to reach the end.
But if you can pull off that feat of dexterity and time-management, you deserve some kind of gaming medal.
Once again the game is split up into chapters, with only the first – Persimmon Steals the Show – available at launch. This chapter is made up of three episodes, set in three different locations, and it starts at Persimmon’s newly re-opened Primrose Lake Hotel and Spa.
The time-management gameplay is fairly conventional. Customers arrive, speech bubbles appear above their heads indicating that they’re about to ask you something, and then icons fill the speech bubbles explaining what they want.
For instance, a typical customer might start by asking for a key before going to his room, ordering a coffee, a newspaper, and a towel from room service, and then paying on his way out, after which you need to clean the room to get it ready for the next guest.
Some items are easy to fetch. The towels, for instance, come from an infinite pile. Coffee needs to be poured, which takes a bit of time, and newspapers come from a pile of six on your counter that you have to replenish every so often from the stack outside.
The re-opening narrative feeds into the gameplay, since every new stage sees a new product or service arriving in your spa as it gets up and running. Eventually you’ll be able to provide firewood, fresh flowers, and cookies, adding to your burden of tasks.
Fortunately, you can make your life easier by spending the money you earn as a hotelier on upgrades to your equipment, adding slots to your inventory, speeding up the coffee-making process, adding to your cookie range, and so on. You’ll also get access to boosts as you progress through the campaign.
How well you do, or whether you pass the stage at all, is down to a number of factors. For one, you need to fulfil your orders as quickly as possible. Each customer has a slowly disappearing row of hearts over their head, and if they all vanish that customer is gone. On the other hand, you get bonus points for serving them while all five hearts are intact.
You also get bonus points for serving all items in a customer’s order at once, checking out multiple customers at once, and generally being fast and efficient. Plus, there’s a raccoon in each stage – smash that with your finger and you’ll get a whole star.
Once you’ve completed the Spa stages, you move to the general store, which subtly shakes things up. For instance, you need to fill baskets with products and fetch items from all around the shop, some of which are quite difficult to spot. It’s here that life starts to get really difficult.
Primrose Lake: Twists of Fate is developed by SQRT3, whose slogan is “casual games for core players”.
And, oh boy, do you need to be a core player to get ahead in this game. Welcome to Primrose Lake was already challenging, but the free-to-play makeover has turned Primrose Lake: Twist of Fate into a real test of skill.
By the time you’re into the second episode, it feels as though you have to pull off a perfect run every time. This isn’t helped by the demanding nature of the controls. Sometimes, you’ll feel like you are pulling off a perfect run, only to be slapped with a fail message.
Time-management games are frantic affairs that bring out the button-masher in the most zen-like players. But if you mash a button in Primrose Lake: Twists of Fate, you have to watch helplessly as your character shakes their head repeatedly, once for each press.
And if you tap on the wrong place, you have to watch your character doggedly cross the screen to reach it, ignoring your desperate attempts to cancel the order by tapping somewhere else. This forces you to stay calm and deliberate, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it can be very frustrating.
Ultimately, Primrose Lake: Twists of Fate is still under construction, with chapters and upgrades still labelled “coming soon”. We hope that while the developers are working on the new content they’ll find time to tweak the balancing, because at the moment it feels like the difficulty leans too far towards encouraging players to spend gems to make progress.
Otherwise, Primrose Late: Twists of Fate is another dose of challenging, addictive time-management gameplay embroidered with a surprisingly rich story about the weird stuff that goes on in the country.