Syl's Blog

The Good(?) Life

The Good Life screenshot

So I just finished playing The Good Life, the most recent game by indie developer Swery65 and his studio White Owls. If you know anything about Swery games, one word probably comes to mind: quirky. He's best known for Deadly Premonition, a thinly veiled love letter to Twin Peaks and all things David Lynch, and D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die, an episodic -- and unfinished -- adventure game originally designed to be played with the Kinect.

Swery games typically come with a healthy dose of jank. They're tonally all over the place, graphically unimpressive but still somehow interesting, and consisting of mechanics that somehow work despite their clunky implementation. I've played Deadly Premonition, and it mostly just felt like a sillier Twin Peaks, but it was charming in spite of itself. It remains one of my favorite games to watch other people play, even though I'll probably never revisit it myself, simply to see their reactions and watch them slowly fall in love with the game despite so many indicators telling them not to.

The Good Life screenshot

I went into The Good Life with zero expectations. I vaguely knew that the game had been funded via Kickstarter, after an original failed attempt at funding via Fig, and that you played as a woman who could transform into a cat or dog at will. Aside from that, all I really knew about it was that it was a Swery game. Thus, I was expecting a janky but delightful romp through a goofy Lynchian story accompanied by some weird mechanics, and that's basically what I got. Then, after finishing the game, I fell down a youtube rabbit hole and discovered what could have been, and boy was I disappointed.

If you look at the game's Kickstarter, you'll see a cute, stylized game with lovely visual effects. You'll also find lots of promises surrounding what basically would amount to a Swery-fied Animal Crossing, where you can take on multiple jobs (including a casino dealer!) to pay off your crippling debt while snapping photos in the charming village of Rainy Woods. I'm not here to detail all of the things that were promised to players and analyze what we ultimately got. That's already been done by the wonderful Hikikomori Media, whose video about The Good Life I highly recommend watching. Suffice it to say that the final product was vastly different from its original Kickstarter promise. For some reason, all of those jobs, minigames, and even visual effects were removed from the game before release, and what ultimately came out was a shell of its former Kickstarter self.

What I am here to do is talk about how our expectations can temper things, and how The Good Life is the ultimate proof of that for me. See, I actually enjoyed my experience with The Good Life. Sure, there were some frustrations over the tedium of fetch quests and collecting items for crafting, and at how long it took me to transform between cat, dog, and human forms. But ultimately it was the kind of thing I expected from an open-world life sim by Swery. I had no idea that he had made all of these promises beforehand, some of which were even included in a prototype demo during the Kickstarter campaign.

The Good Life screenshot

I ran around Rainy Woods doing tasks for people, I rode around the countryside on my shteed (sheep steed), I upgraded my house and garden, and I finished the main storyline. It was just as janky and weird as I expected, and even though it was nowhere near game-of-the-year status for me, I had fun with it for what it was. I appreciated the unique characters and the fully realized world of the game. I wanted new clothes for Naomi, the upgraded house, and garden decorations -- and by the gods, I got them, even if it took me playing some badly controlled minigames to get there. It was only after I started watching youtube videos about The Good Life that I realized how disappointing it truly was.

I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say here -- I guess just that it was a good reminder of how much our expectations can affect our experiences, and after 25 hours in the game, I wanted to say something about it. Mostly, though, I feel really bad for all of the people who stuck with Swery through the Kickstarter -- and played that gorgeous little prototype demo -- only to come out the other end with a lifeless imitation of what they expected. As for myself, I enjoyed my time with The Good Life, but I'm kind of sad I missed out on being a casino dealer.

#video games