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Bookstore Dream - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Bookstore Dream

DSiWare | CIRCLE Entertainment | 1 Player | Out Now | 200 Nintendo Points
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18th September 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

I do have to wonder if anyone has a goal kicking around in their head to open up a store that principally sells books, what with the turbulent times currently facing print media. Perhaps that's exactly why this game was created as an "in the event of" response; to give a space for those ambitions to be nurtured to a mild degree and allow individuals to pretend, if just for a short while, that such dreams can become a reality. By not presenting any of the harsh uncertainty that would be manifest in real life, one might say Bookstore Dream nails down the dream component, yet doing so without playing to fanciful notions. Where does that leave it, then? CIRCLE Entertainment has seen to it to project some realistic circumstances to usher players into a standard of administrative practices, and ordinarily that could pay dividends. But if their goal was to, in keeping with that realism, also translate the monotony of running a business, then I have to say the project has succeeded in that regard.

    First thing you must realize about this is not to let the "dream" part confuse you into thinking you'll be looking after the central headquarters of a big chain; nor should you go to the other end of envisioning the sort of upkeep that would go into maintaining a small business. As far as setting goes, Bookstore Dream meets roughly in the middle. Your book store -- in all its petite-ness -- opens and closes at 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM on a daily basis, leaving you little time for rest and relaxation. In a certain respect, though, even with all this work being outlined for you, it feels like you're managing a tiny wing in a department store rather than a full-grown store. There are very few (if any) amenities and additional bonuses to make it a one-stop location for avid readers and businessmen alike, as well as the fact that there are no external expansions to develop the store's outer appearance -- all of the revamping will take place on an internal level. Nevertheless, in between all the mundane duties, you can still make certain investments to see future growth in your business. 

    How this all comes to the fore with a constancy is seen in the cycles adopted towards the gameplay flow. Restock orders are processed at the conclusion of each work day, and changes with staffing arrangements take effect every Monday. This is also the time when you may receive notification pertaining to a an accrued debt, as a sustained loss in profit margins over a three-week period will result in your store folding completely. So as to ensure this never comes to pass, what you'll want to do is keep an eye on your net profits as indicated in the pull-out menu running along the bottom of the Touch Screen. But to have a more immediate scope on matters, a number of gauges are regularly accessibly via the top screen. The main thing you'll want to keep an eye on is your Capital, for it is with this that you will make both purchases, even those across a long term. From there, you also have the Fame and Score categories, which are a reflection of the reputation your store has in the community, and it is through the former in particular that you will be presented with opportunities to start up new business ventures with enthusiastic buyers. Then you have the Expense field, which amalgamates all your maintenance and other related costs into one total sum to monitor as a potential prompt for making changes in store setup.

Aside from what's presented on the surface in terms of standard management, the game will at times pull out occasional happenings and events to either push or inhibit your management style in some way. These include uncontrollable increases in your rent costs, opportunities to advertise your business by way of a promotional booth, unconditional capital bonuses for probable business investments, and so on. However, much of your success does not, in fact, ride on these surprises, but rather the decisions you make on a daily basis.

    On the most basic level, this will involve affixing prices to the materials you've received from publishers, and as each purchase goes towards the influence rating of the respective publisher from which that material is associated, this will eventually lead to new items you can put onto shelves. Along with that, there's a little game you have to play as you judge the laws of supply and demand to determine applicable prices for the materials you sell. This, in turn, will affect popularity ratings of the individual items. You have to guard against devaluing the material completely by going into sale prices that will leave you in an unprofitable situation, but at the same time you may find it's better to narrow the gap between cost reproduction and profit to build more over the short term. The only thing you can't do with the prices is raise them above their suggested retail price.

    All of the weighing that goes into this really isn't as complicated or even extensive as it sounds, yet the process isn't made completely robotic either. Because you have certain contractual obligations to fulfill and will have to decide between which new publishers to support, there is some strategic thinking involved. This is supported to some extent by the restrictions put in place on a cosmetic level, with players having only a set number of spots to work with for placing furniture and racks. And then to take that subtle strategic component one step further is a series of promotional offerings in the way of advertisements and campaigns. You can even initiate autograph sessions with authors of books featured in your store, and it may just be that while the fanbase isn't enough to sustain a day-long session, the increased attention may be what you need to sell less popular items. It is through these different means that Bookstore Dream creates a self-encasing shell that reaches a level of predictability, but because you have certain elements nagging at you, I wouldn't say the game is overly artificial to a fault.

One other important thing I have not mentioned until now is the overall goal that players have of reaching four specific milestones over a 99-day period. The reason why I'm bringing this up now is because I'm now going to get into how the game manages in the way of progression -- or doesn't, as some may perceive. The impression you've probably formed by now is that all of the different elements connected to the maintenance side of the game -- what could be described as the thrust of the entire package -- are connected in one fashion or another. And because of those, shall we say, bonds from a design perspective, it would appear the team did a pretty decent, if not good job of tying everything together while still allowing for future growth prospects. Unfortunately, the flow (or lack of it) is what ultimately puts a sometimes depressing damper on things. I don't think I need to spell out how this relates to the time frame they've stipulated for players to wrap things up by. For obvious reasons, this gets into what I was saying earlier about the ordinary nature of the game's process, but there's more to it than just these suggestions, concerning as they are.

    Anyone accustomed to simulation games that have a logical pace and methodology will probably be unmoved by what's presented at the outset, and in view of the foregoing, this can be especially damaging to the idea of continuing with the experience when the beginning can be so rough. The fact is it takes quite some time before things really get going, and even though days pass by fairly quickly in the game, for this to extend as long as it does is enough to drive your average gamer away. It would be easy to put the blame on circumstances, saying that you can't make any sales because people aren't coming in. It can just as easily be said that this was an intentional design choice to give a realistic view of the initially bleak situation some businesses are faced with just as they start to hone their chipper spirit. But the struggles players will experience just in trying to achieve a base clientele isn't at all circumstantial, nor does it seem like an intentional choice; more of a side-effect of the developers not holding to a much more user-friendly progression, which becomes somewhat of an expectation after building experience with this genre.

    Having said all that, I found that the more I bit the buckle and put aside the initial drop in interest levels, the more I got to liking it. And naturally, as the cash started rolling in, I came to the conclusion that that wall was just something to be crossed in the stream of things to arrive at the height of the experience. But that's when things changed again -- this time for the worse. Sadly, the game gets to a point where all you're doing is restocking material and going about your affairs as though it were, well, a job. Yes, I do realize that that's technically what's being simulated here, and yes, you're doing so with business-oriented goals in mind. But because things aren't supported well over a long-term span, the engagement level is effectively reduced to a significant low. I can actually see some getting more than fed up with it but actually going so far as to get depressed over the lack of movement. I do see this as being a reflection of what happens when the interaction component of a simulation game doesn't penetrate in that it is kept strictly to decision management, and that's ultimately not how I see genuine fun surfacing. Even though there's more than five hours of content here, will you be willing to play that far into it? Unless you can convince yourself that what isn't worth your while somehow is, then probably not.

    Adding to the list of issues is the presence of technical concerns both big and small. Being that this game is entirely touch-based, one would assume that a large portion of these issues start and stop on a control level, but that isn't the case. Aside from a few drags of my stylus not registering, the game is functional in that regard. Where, then, do the problems stem from? If I had to pinpoint it to one thing, it would be the programming. There was one case where I had set up a series of orders days in advance, and on the day that they were supposed to come in, an event triggered and I inexplicably ended up with next-to-no supply for that day. And that's despite having paid for the deliveries in full.

Sticking with the same subject matter, concerns also arise when it comes to placing orders in excess quantities (where stock counts will later be maxed out on delivery day) or not having enough funds to cover all prepared transactions and end-of-day costs. There's no calculation or warning provided in terms of the capital required for restocking, and it's expected that you make these judgments almost willy-nilly and then not be surprised when things don't show up in the requested numbers. And one final point of consideration: the whole situation surrounding restocking is just silly. Let's say you have an order organized already set to come four days from now. If you add to or decrease the stock even by a single unit, this will instantly delay your order further; pressing Cancel will not go back to the original order and time span. I can understand why a vendor might have reasons to institute a policy to prevent customers from changing orders on the fly, but it would've been nice if they made that apparent. All things considered, these technical mishaps are pretty irresponsible.

    On the matter of presentation, Bookstore Dream performs adequately. The visuals contribute to an easygoing atmosphere, as do the models. It would've been great to see some more changes in the visual space, perhaps with some animations of delivery trucks pulling in or displaying competing shops in the nearby area by way of a street view. (Come to think of it, I wonder why they didn't introduce a competition element here...) I say this because even with characters moving about, the environment is a bit on the static side. Speaking of, I had no issues with the movement of both staff and customers. With some, it seems like they only come in to take a break from walking as they simply sit on a bench, since they subsequently walk out without making any purchases. But perhaps this was done just to add a bit of variety and make the people seem less like robots. As for the music, it's not impressive in the slightest. It's about on par with some of the other titles on the service, in that you only have two tracks repeating over and over again as the days go by. And seeing as one of these sounds like a beginner's recorder lesson (see: not the inspiring kind), it's really annoying to have to listen to these on such a repetitive basis.

    Overall, I'd have to say Bookstore Dream is a mixed bag. There are some good intentions here and some aspects to its design are correct from the point of view about this being a realistic simulation, but much of this is clouded by repetition and off-putting progression (or lack thereof). In short, if you're looking for a compelling simulation game, this isn't it. I can some might be willing to make an exception anyway for some short-lived fun just for it being in the posse of other $2 titles, but to me the game is still pretty ordinary and can easily be skipped.

15/30 - Below Average

Gameplay 5/10 - Some functional design aspects to drive realistic simulation, poor sense of progression, flaws make it not especially user-friendly
Presentation 6/10 - Technical concerns, lousy and extremely repetitive music, otherwise has some decent work built into it, static atmosphere
Enjoyment 3/5 - Can be hard to get into at first, overall process has its moments of fun now and again, still becomes monotonous over time
Extra Content 1/5 - One straight run with milestones to clear over a 99-day period, provides hours of content but most won't see it to completion

Equivalent to a score of 50% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Bookstore Dream
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