The only thing more addictive than a good casual game is a good boxset. GameHouse’s Welcome to Primrose Lake is an attempt at both. Part of the studio’s Original Stories series, it’s billed as “Northern Exposure meets Twin Peaks”.
And we detected a healthy dose of the Netflix series Ozark in there too, though this story takes place in the Rocky Mountains. Hillbillies are hillbillies.
Without giving away too much detail, the story opens with an unlikely encounter between two identical – but unrelated – women on a remote country road. This inevitably results in an elaborate case of mistaken identity.
You’ll see things from a number of perspectives over the course of the game, but the main protagonist – your fish-out-of-water counterpart in the fictional universe – is a runaway bride called Jenny Carlyle.
Jenny is pretending to be, erm, Jenny Carlyle, a member of Primrose Lake’s long-established Carlyle dynasty. To make matters more confusing, Jenny (the real one) hasn’t been back to Primrose Lake since her tragic, mystery-plagued childhood.
The hills have iPhones
Against a backdrop of rural isolation, creepy hillbilly weirdness, and soothing bluegrass instrumental music, the stage is set for a story full of awkward situations and shock revelations.
But what about the gameplay? In a nutshell, Welcome to Primrose Hill is a time-management game in the same vein as Cook, Serve, Delicious! and a million other similar titles.
Customers place orders, and you need to fulfil them as quickly as possible before taking their cash and, where appropriate, cleaning up after them.
Some items are simple to deliver. You just tap on the donut, say, or the bottle of water, and then on the customer, and you’re done. Others are more complicated. Carrots need to be put into baskets, sandwiches need to be assembled, drinks need to be filled, eggs need to be fried, and so on. And in every level there’s cleaning to do and racoons to catch.
The time-management gameplay takes place in a variety of different businesses, and sees you doing a variety of tasks, from serving food to measuring for clothing alterations. The flow of the gameplay remains the same, though, and that’s fine because Welcome to Primrose Lake is a solid time-management game, with clear, unfussy graphics and a manageably frantic pace.
Clearing stages nets you diamonds, which you can spend at the local park, gentrifying the place while learning about the history of the Carlyle clan.
And boy, it must have been some history, because the reappearance of a bonafide Carlyle in Primrose Lake triggers some highly suspect behaviour.
The storyline in Welcome to Primrose Lake is rich, compelling, and surprisingly dark, with abductions, creepy hillfolk, and generally ominous overtones. Most of the characters don’t seem very happy to see Jenny Carlyle, and they’re not afraid to show it.
It’s clear that GameHouse has put a lot of effort into storytelling. The result is a genuinely enjoyable narrative, filled with richly drawn characters with their own distinct personalities and perspectives.
The gameplay suits the story, too. Time-management is a genre that keeps you on the back foot, and Jenny Carlyle is constantly on the back foot too, getting bossed around and sniped at by half the population of Primrose Lake.
Welcome to Primrose Lake isn’t the slickest time-management game you’ll ever play, but it makes up for that with a genuinely entertaining story that elevates the whole thing above the usual casual gaming fare.
This well-wrought narrative doesn’t come cheap – unlocking the full game costs £8.99, while the first 24 levels will set you back £1.49. Plus, once you’ve completed the free levels you can’t go back and play them again – or at least you couldn’t on the build we played.
If you’re suitably impressed by GameHouse’s storytelling and game design efforts you can sign up for Original Stories at a cost of £7.49 a month. This gives you unfettered access to 32 games, but there’s no getting around the fact that Welcome to Primrose Lake is more expensive than your typical casual timewaster.
But that’s because it’s not your typical timewaster. It’s a new kind of experience that consolidates your narrative and gaming addictions into one handy package, and it’s well worth a look.