I found myself in a little bit of an embarrassing predicament with Style Boutique. I remember playing the original one for so long, and remember talking about how good it was (and only because I had to review it). I put hours into it, I was addicted. And then, upon searching, I realised that I never actually reviewed it. That’s right – I bought Style Boutique and played it to death for months on end. I’ll admit that I easily haven’t touched it since the year it came out, but I was keen to see what improvements the team could make to the 3DS iteration, New Style Boutique. While I think I’m past that “phase” of my life where I would sit down and play Style Boutique for hours (even months), New Style Boutique is still quite a notable improvement in almost every way.
The premise of Style Boutique is simple – players take on the role of a manager of a fashion store. They must buy clothes from suppliers and then sell said clothes to their customers who are from all kinds of different backgrounds. New Style Boutique expands this a little bit – providing opportunities to apply make-up, style hair and coordinate beauty pageants. This “action” is punctuated by a narrative which is surprisingly well fleshed out as the game progresses. In short – the woman you take over the store from is out to become a world famous super star and somehow you want to get “revenge” against her by becoming a “style savvy” store owner. It’s weird to have a story with a few twists and turns here, but it does keep things interesting as time goes by.
While there is a lot to do in New Style Boutique – the general gist is that players will have to face customers as they enter the store, converse with them to understand their needs and preferences, and assign / design a full outfit for them to wear based on their suggestions. These moments are presented similar to most Japanese adventure games (like Ace Attorney) by showing the character and displaying their dialogue as text. It works well and borrows from the genre, but it seems like the best approach.
Of course, as time goes by, customers will become decidedly vaguer in their suggestions requiring players to discern their own style without help from the customer themselves. To complicate matters further, clothes must be within the budget that the customer is willing to spend, and of course, match the current season too (we gave a thick jumper to a girl during one of the hottest summers, she was not impressed to say the least).
Given there are hundreds and hundreds of different items to provide to customers, clothing is divided into “tastes” which are more or less cliques or stereotypes. From your rather basic styles (“girly” or “strong”) to your rather unique and outlandish ones (“goth” or “bohemian”) there is almost something for everyone in New Style Boutique. For those who were wondering, male fashion is included in this sequel but is quite rare and takes several hours to unlock too.
The more people made happy from visiting the store, the more moonlight you collect (we’re not really sure why it’s moonlight that is being collected here). Once you cycle through the phases of the moon, the store and the town it is situated in expand and provides the player somewhere to visit. Not only does this give people more incentive to visit the area due to more stores appearing, but it also provides you, the player, to network and build strong business partnerships with neighbours.
Besides sales, other activities exist for the player to indulge in. Beauty pageants are the ones we enjoyed the most (I can’t believe I wrote that) out of everything, although we admit they are a little bit broken. Essentially the same as dressing up your customers, but without a budget, the beauty pageants require players to put together and co-ordinate a pageant or runway show in order to impress the public. It’s a simple system that provides moonlight just as much as running your store does, and given the lack of budgetary limitations it seems pretty easy to abuse this system to advance further, should the player wish.
And what the player’s wishes is really the focus of New Style Boutique. It is a game that provides the player with a large amount of autonomy to carry out the things they want to do, in whatever order, and at whatever pace they wish. Moonlight can be accumulated from all kinds of different sources – including simple activities like varying your own daily outfit or speaking to friends who are at other businesses in the area. When you’re not selling stuff in your store, players can also visit suppliers to stock up on their latest items, design window displays and dress mannequins.
Your store itself can even be customised however you like it to be. Eventually you’ll start off as a general clothing store – but as most players find their niche they will be able to select what decorations, furniture, stock and music will be associated with their store and thus draw in a particular kind of customer that they would prefer to be catered to. It’s a very free system that most players will appreciate the pacing of – particularly the freedom.
The general gameplay is, for the most part, fairly competent. Everything works fine and the depth feels just at the right level to be inviting however not overwhelming. One major complaint I have is that it is an incredibly easy game (I acknowledge I might not be the target audience, but anyone who can read could easily work out what their customer needs from such blatantly obvious request). As such, the game suffers from being repetitive at times should you find yourself lacking any challenge. Regardless of these two aspects (of which your mileage may vary), do not be fooled by the cute appearance of New Style Boutique – this is a very good and in-depth management game that most would enjoy.
Outside of the main stuff, New Style Boutique also offers a myriad of wireless gameplay options. The first is the Plaza, which allows players to upload three outfits of their choice and let other players download them for a price – effectively paying your store income to do so. It’s a cool idea and probably the best way to implement online for a game like this. Downloadable content is also supported, though nothing compelling has appeared online just yet. Local multiplayer is supported and sees up to four players coordinating and designing a runway show, but unfortunately requires a card per player, significantly increasing the barriers to entry. Streetpass also allows players to create their own logo and spread it to other players to purchase and use on costumes. This idea I particularly like – players will be essentially creating their own brand and spreading it through the Style Boutique population. It’s a cool idea.
The game also makes use of the AR cards included with your 3DS, allowing players to take photos of their characters and outfit creations while superimposed on to the real world. While this is a nice gesture, putting these weird looking cartoon characters into a real world just looks plain strange. In addition to this, at any time the player can take a screenshot of their characters and export them onto an SD card to share (and those who download said images can even copy the costume off it into their game). It’s a great way to get your content out there (and I dare say that a lot of creative people will be playing this) although the process itself is admittedly cumbersome.
Despite having so many things to do, New Style Boutique’s biggest problem is that it holds out on you with its notable features several hours into the game. While I had no problems slugging it out, some players might not enjoy the rather monotonous grind to get to that point. But in terms of longevity – most players will be able to get at least twenty hours out of this if they were to continually play. The main story mode itself, however, will take roughly ten hours to complete. And don’t be surprised if you sat down to play New Style Boutique for 30 minutes or so and had your session expand into several hours – it’s a simple and yet addictive game.
In terms of presentation, New Style Boutique is okay. The graphics are colourful and vibrant, and character models animate very flamboyantly as you speak to them, giving them quite a bit of life. This is important as it also helps gauge whether or not a customer likes whatever clothes you are offering them – and while it’s minor the synergy between visual presentation and actual gameplay is something that I can appreciate in a game like this. The 3D is used as you would expect it to be used – dialog boxes pop out and the characters models appear more prominent. It’s been done before, it adds barely anything and it’s largely, well, pointless.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. Uplifting jazz beats and airy tunes permeate most of the game, sounding like upbeat elevator music. While it suits the game quite well, and reminds me a lot of The Sims series, it does get a little bit monotonous as time goes on. Voice work is also completely absent here, with all dialogue being written instead (even employing several pop culture references – including multiple mentions of Tumblr. Yes. Tumblr.)
New Style Boutique is one of those games that I feel sorry for – it’s never going to be taken seriously given the way it presents itself and can easily be dismissed as yet another shovelware offering on a Nintendo portable. But this isn’t an Imagine game or something of that calibre, it is something much more special. A management simulator that has a lot more depth than anyone will give it credit for, and it’s a shame that it might even go unnoticed. Of course, it’s not perfect, as there are down periods where most players won’t be bothered to continue and just give up. But for the most part, New Style Boutique brings together a deep management simulation and sensible online components to be something I think outclasses its predecessor (and competitors) in every way.