Reviews

The Shopkeeper Review – Groundhog Day Without The Fun, Or Bill Murray

The-Shopkeeper

Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Mastertronic
Developer:
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Imagine an antiques store filled with interesting objects, each of which has its own tale to tell that will effect the outcome of the narrative. For a point and click adventure it sounds brilliant, and the promise of an adventure meant to be replayed over and over with different choices is an equally exciting prospect.

The Shopkeeper never does manage to live up to its own potential, sadly, delivering a narrative stitched together in ways that rarely makes sense nor inspires much interest.  The idea is that a young businessman is attempting to locate the perfect gift for his mother-in-law in order to ensure a business related request goes smoothly and in his favor. Each play-through of the game takes just a mere five minutes or so, asking you to pick one of the items located within the shop and then witness the events of the meeting, granting you a tiny amount of dialogue options with which to influence the outcome. You could choose to open the conversation with the topic of wanting to diversify, for example, or by mentioning a deal that has been offered.

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Again, it sounds interesting, but the Shopkeeper is made up of parts that feel like they have no connection with each other, a few beautiful ideas that don’t mesh together. There’s no discernible method or logic behind attempting to pick the right gift , each conversation with the mother-in-law and item described failing to provide any meaningful nudge in the right direction. This is partially because the amount of dialogue on offer is tiny – there’s just three or four opportunities to pick between dialogue choices, and thus every play-through will involve you listening to the same poorly written and equally poorly acted nonsense over and over  until you begin to tire. Had there been more branches in the dialogue tree it may have been easier to pick up on hints and make progress through the game.

And then there’s the gifts themselves, which don’t feel like they have any actual bearing on the story. Pick one of the antiques in the store and the titular Shopkeeper will briefly chat about its unique history, each of which is mildly interesting. Once he’s finished the Shopkeeper will loudly announce, “follow me, sir,” a baffling sentence considering it’s never made clear where he’s asking you to go. It’s at this point you’re launched into the meeting with the mother in-law, in which the chosen gift is never presented or even acknowledged by either of the two characters within the scene, leaving you to wonder what impact your offering is supposed to be having upon the fateful meeting. Fail to get the desired result and you’ll find yourself back in the shop where the businessman says he doesn’t want to buy the item in question and leaves the shop.

The implication is that the meeting itself between the man and his mother in-law was another story being told by the shopkeeper to the customer, creating a disjointed feeling in the plot. What was the point of the first tale of the objects past, if it was only to be followed by a second story and would have no impact on the game? None of the histories muttered by the shopkeeper seemed to tie in very well with the rest of the story. If the meeting was a story being told why is the man in it identical to the one in the shop? Indeed, what was even the point of it? I can only assume the idea is that the storekeeper is explaining what would happen if that particular antique was chosen by the man, but that doesn’t make sense either – how would the shopkeeper know how the mother-in-law would react? Is it a prediction of the future?

None of this would be so frustrating if the writing was of quality, but the story the game seems to be attempting to tell is simply not very interesting, and the dialogue is often frustrating as conversations don’t flow naturally. The same cannot be said of the actors with only one decent person among them, namely whomever is charged with voicing the businessman. The rest sound horrible, placing odd pauses where none need be The game seems to be aiming for an ambiguous tale where the player picks up on more and more information during each play through and uses that information to craft their own conclusions, an admirable goal. But what the writers don’t seem to realise is that even an ambiguous storyline needs something in it for players to draw conclusions from. If there’s nothing to become hooked to nothing to become connected to and interested in, then everything falls apart. The pre-release press releases promised twists and turns and sinister endings to uncover, but none of those are here. There’ a few attempts, to be sure, but they fall flat.

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For a short “interactive story” that lasts just minutes for each play through one would really expect far tighter writing and much greater meaning in almost everything. This should be a title that players want to dissect with every session, but I was unable to find anything of real value within the game. The messages it does seem intent on delivering are basic in their meaning, and if the aim was to show how important choice was in our lives then

While the description of The Shopkeeper being a point and click adventure game is technically true, player control is absolutely minimal. Rather than directing your character with a few clicks the game decides when you move and where you move, leaving you a window in which to click on items and get a quick description. Combined with  minimalistic gameplay style it often feels like you’re on a ride rather than playing a game, dragged along at the whim of the writing while having no influence of your own.

In truth I was just about to take an extended break from playing, perhaps for a year or so, when I accidentally stumbled across the correct sequence to gain the “best” ending, but even  now I still don’t know how it happened. Not once did I feel like I made any genuine progress toward discerning the best sequence, and thus was left feeling unsatisfied and let-down.

At least the game looks pretty, sporting a unique sketched art-style that makes it immediately stand-out from most other titles. But even this is ruined, the lovely visuals tarnished as soon as one of the characters moves, revealing horribly clumsy, stiff animations.

Purely from a theoretical standpoint The Shopkeeper intrigues me, but the actual game itself is crudely put together. As much as I appreciate every small indie effort and wish the people behind them the best, The Shopkeeper simply isn’t a very good game. For something that claims to be driven by narrative and choice The Shopkeeper is sorely lacking in both areas, failing to create a compelling experience. Perhaps I simply don’t get it and am missing something important in the story, but this isn’t a game I can recommend. The only true good point is that with such a cheap asking price you won’t be spending much if you decide to check it out anyway.

The Good:
+ interesting concept.
+ Really cheap.

The Bad:
– Dull story.
– Little gameplay.
– Choices don’t matter much.

The Verdict: 2/5 – Ok
Not a bad game by any means, but a boring one, which is in some ways far worse.

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