A man in a suit and a rabbit-eared hood. A post office robot who delivers magazines. An alien frog who descends to the planet, walks into your store, and forces people to change their clothes. And these are only a few of the zany, ridiculous characters you meet in Pop Cutie.
Pop Cutie! Street Fashion Simulation is the localized American version of That's QT!, a fashion design and business management sim that made waves in Japan (and the American import scene) last spring. And it's easy to see why -- after only a few minutes' worth of time spent with the title, you can't help but be swept up into its intentionally odd, off-the-wall world filled with weird characters, and the designers who seek to create the latest trend in fashion for those same weird characters to wear.
You begin the game as one of those designers, just starting out with your very first shop. The rabbit-eared suit-wearing guy becomes your mentor and shows you the ropes, introducing both the game's storyline and the mechanics of how to play -- and then it's up to you to become the world's next great fashion maven.
Your store doesn't have any initial inventory starting off, so your first task is to design -- and to do that, you need to be inspired. Designing clothes in Pop Cutie isn't based on gathering fabrics, or touch screen mini-games, or anything like that. It is, instead, built on "keywords." You take to the streets to get into conversations with potential customers in your town, and ask them what kinds of fashions they'd be most interested in buying.
Their answers will often contain highlighted words, which you can then "catch" and take back to your studio to serve as fuel for your creativity as you design the next big thing. For example, someone might mention to you that they love nature. Another might bring up the fact that they enjoy the warm weather of summer. You could catch their ideas, then combine "nature" and "summer" to create, say, a cool pair of jogging pants.
Sound odd? It is. But purposefully so -- Pop Cutie has remained a distinctly Japanese game even though its dialogue has been translated to English, and the fact that no element of the game ever quite makes rational sense is what ultimately makes it so appealing. The localization team even took things a step further and added in some fresh jokes and asides of their own, like the fact that the three Fashion Battle judges are named Randall, Pauline and Simone. (Sound a little familiar?)
Fashion Battles, by the way, are a regular competitive occurrence. Though most of your time will be spent designing new clothes and then ensuring they sell well in your store by managing employees, inventory and advertising, the Battles come around fairly frequently as a way for you to potentially make major gains in earning loyal fans.
You and a rival designer character face off in a runway competition, where your most popular styles are put up against theirs and judged on sales, coordination and audience feedback. If you win, your fame will boost your business even more than before. If you lose, you'll take a hit to your popularity while customers flock to the other guy's place instead.
Pop Cutie is undeniably unique, but its quirkiness unfortunately extends just a bit too far and ends up bringing some negativity into this otherwise attractive package. The play control, for one, is hard to handle. Everything in Pop Cutie is isometric, meaning all of the environments and characters are always displayed on an angle like Super Mario RPG
, or Final Fantasy Tactics A2
, or Q*Bert
. And directional control in that perspective is traditionally difficult -- as it is here. You'll have trouble getting your character where he or she needs to go, and it doesn't help that your path is almost always blocked by a swarming crowd of potential customers.
That crowd is evidence, too, of another of the game's faults -- its sense of timing. Everything moves at an exceedingly rapid pace in Pop Cutie, such that customers will often stream into your store, browse around, pick out some clothes, try them on, look at themselves in the mirror and then complete their purchase at the register all in less than the span of 10 seconds. And if you're not in place to take their money, or if you don't have an AI-controlled employee in place to take their money, they can get frustrated and become less likely to revisit your fine boutique on future occasions.
All the while, too, the in-game time is blazing by -- the "days" of the in-game calendar take only seconds to pass by. If you put the game down for a few minutes to go grab a snack and then come back, you might find a whole month's gone by in your absence. So you've definitely got to stay on top of things -- the high-stakes world of fashion demands your very best.
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