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Release Date: July 2015
System: PC (Steam, GOG.com)
I adore games that try to put a twist the tried-and-true and slightly tired ‘hero adventuring’ formula. One of my favorite Wiiware games were two games from Square-Enix: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Darklord. In these games, you weren’t the hero venturing forth to unknown lands and delving dark and dangerous dungeons. You were either the one in charge of the kingdom sending the heroes forth, or the evil darklord trying to stop these heroes from plundering all your hard-earned treasure. Dungeon Keeper and its ‘spiritual successors’ (there it is again) the Dungeons series did the same thing.
But what if, instead of being the heroes or the overlord or the king, you were a humble merchant just trying to get by in a world full of danger? A fun game called Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (which I may review at a later time) set you in the shoes of a young item shop lady trying to make ends meet.
So, what’s the one profession every hero needs at their back? A blacksmith, of course! Every hero needs a Hephaestus or a Griswold!
And what if that blacksmith… were a potato?
Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! is a simulation/management game where you assume the role of Patata, a young blacksmith who inherits his grandfather’s (or grandtater’s) old blacksmith shop, partnering with the mysterious and possibly threatening Agent 46 (who looks nothing like a potato version of Agent 47 from Hitman, why would you ask that). Cliché, yes. But the story doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. In fact, with spud puns fly left and right, the game’s entertaining sense of humor was what kept me invested for all ten hours.
You start the game with little more than a shack, a few workbenches, and a few fellow apprentice smiths to help. Your objective is to develop your craft and sell the weapons you create to heroes that inhabit the potato-themed world, working your way up to more advanced facilities and hiring additional workers to assist you.
Your actual goal in Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! is to purchase the smithy from Agent 46, who insists that he used to be your grandfather’s business partner… But there’s something fishy (or starchy) about this guy…
You might notice something funny about your smiths right from the word ‘go’: their designs and names are all based on potato-flavored puns of pop culture references. My two favorites had to be Winnie Stonebell (aka Winry Rockbell from Full Metal Alchemist) and Laura Craft (aka Laura Croft from Tomb Raider). Develop your smithy enough, and you might invite some legendary smiths to work for you!
Your smiths will develop their skills as they work on weapons or train at different locations on the world map. Your smiths can also level up in a few other areas, such as improving their ability to explore the world for materials or learning the art of bartering for improved weapon selling prices. But be careful not to work your smiths too hard for too long without a vacation, because they’ll get penalized on their job performance.
All weapons strengths are based on four different attributes: power, speed, accuracy, and magic. Each weapon can be ‘boosted’ by one of your smiths or a ‘freelance’ smith for a big one-time increase to stats. Each weapon can also be enchanted with a stat-boosting item that will give the weapon a catchy suffix. You can even name your weapons!
With weapon-crafting experience, your fellow smiths will level up in their respective job classes, unlocking improved class types and enabling them to further improve the attributes of the weapons they work on. Also, you’ll start the game with only a few weapon types, but as you unlock the world area by area by obtaining fame and travel passes, you’ll be able to search more locations for the relics you’ll need to reveal more.
With increased fame comes opportunities to craft weapons for very special spuds. You may very well recognize them! Be warned, however, you’ll only have one chance to craft these one-of-a-kind weapons, so your smiths will have to be prepared. Succeed in famous weapon crafting, and you’ll get a big reward and a bunch of fame. Every so often, you’ll also be given the chance to win big prizes at contests that judge your weapons based on their attributes. At the beginning of the game, there’s no way to win. By the late game, you’ll be winning every award without even trying.
So, with having to juggle your increasing number of smiths on various journeys and vacations, crafting and selling weapons, balancing all of the different weapon types and their growth potentials, is it easy to get lost in Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?!
Yes. In all the wrong ways.
If you can’t tell from the screenshots of the main game area, even though your blacksmith continually gets bigger as the story goes on, your blacksmith becomes more and more crowded with every upgrade. I’m also not a huge fan of the entire UI in general. I know it’s a management game, and information is supposed to be everywhere. But there’s just too much. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the day, time, or weather in the upper right corner as that information is rarely important enough to look at. The ‘chat’ box on the bottom right is sometimes clever but useless unless you really need to review what happened two seconds ago. All the numbers you see in the menus about weapon stats and smith stats are all just numbers, too: the higher the better, that’s all.
In fact, there’s a single example that wraps up my entire problem with this game: the ‘Feed Me’ button in the upper left. It’s a cute puppy thing. I don’t want the puppy thing to be sad. So, I click on that button so the graphic changes to show a full food bowl and a happy puppy thing. That’s it. That’s the purpose of that button. And frankly, if that button does, say, give all my smiths a bonus to productivity because the puppy potato is happy, the game doesn’t say so.
There is so much gosh-darn clicking in this game, it makes the late-game unbearable. Almost nothing in this game is done automatically. When characters do anything, literally anything, whether it’s taking a vacation or exploring or selling weapons or whatever, they don’t just come back to their workstations when they finish. First you have to click on the smith to get a report saying that they finished. Then you have to manually point and click a workstation to send them to. How much harder would it have been to assign them to their last workstation, or a random one if that one got filled?
Confession time: my ten hours playing this game was not concurrent. I’ve had to come back to it a couple of times because I lose the desire to play it. I’m certain I’m at the late stage of the game, but every time I reach a fame objective, do you know what the next objective is? Gain more fame. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if there’s an ending, or is it just a never-ending race for more fame. I really wanted to finish it for the review to say a hilarious cathartic ending was waiting at the end of the grind, but I just couldn’t do it.
All this isn’t to say I didn’t have fun with this game. On the contrary, the humor and the overall game system at the very least kept me wanting to come back and play it. If you want to kill an hour or even a half hour, it’s a great game. But I find it very challenging to sit down and play for longer stretches of time. In doing research for the game, I discovered that even the creators of the game’s wiki gave up before they were finished. It’s kind of a testament to the game’s lack of depth. But then, what did I expect from a game about a potato blacksmith?
I think this must be what the item and potion shop owners must feel like when a battered-up adventurer strolls into town looking to buy and sell. There’s nothing like a peaceful life, but man is it a bit boring and monotonous.
If you enjoy management games, don’t mind a clickfest, and can pick up on a lot of anime and video game pop culture references in the form of potatoes, pick up Holy Potatoes! A Weapon Shop?! this game during the Summer or Winter Steam Sale. Or, better yet, get it on a GOG.com sale without all the nasty copyright protection. You might not finish it, but you’ll get a kick out of it.