Full marks to Onsen Master for pulling something a little different out of the hat. I’ve played umpteen sim management games, but never have I been tasked with dealing with the unwashed masses.
Taking place across several bath house style settings, this is a game which challenges you to mix ingredients and match visitors and their ailments to corresponding cures. However, yokai (supernatural pests) are intent on creating a mess and generally being a pain in the backside.
The action takes place from a top-down perspective (think Overcooked!) and each bath house is laid out with tubs of ingredients, hot springs and a mixing station. Customers will start to file in, and you will need to grab items which bear the matching symbol to them, mix them up, chuck them in the spring and then lead the customer to the same tub of water and throw them in too.
Of course, as you cleanse your guests the water will get dirty and you’ll be required to hop in and clean it. As with mixing, all this requires is a brief rotation of the right thumbstick to rectify. Guests and yokai will also leave a trail of dirt which is quick to clean up, but if left will slow everything down.
The control setup is simple, with the triggers acting as grab buttons for both ingredients and customers. It works well enough, but can sometimes lack accuracy when there are a lot of items littering the bath house. When you’re against the clock too, repeatedly picking up the wrong things can become somewhat irritating.
In the single player story mode, there are six settings to play through, each with three rounds. It’s a very short adventure, which will probably take you just over an hour to complete. As you would expect, things get a little more tricky as you progress but fundamentally, each level feels pretty much the same. This is because apart from some slight layout changes, the need to lob an enchantment into the mix or yokai that chuck you about a bit, everything remains the same.
The fact that, essentially, you have to play through three rounds of each level doesn’t help Onsen Master from feeling incredibly repetitive. The only real difference is the appearance of a boss in the final round of each level. These require a greater quantity of ingredients to “defeat” and usually require you to deal with some minions before you get the big bad itself into the hot tub.
Beating the boss is compulsory to proceed, but oddly the levels they appear in feel like a trade-off between going for the high score and focusing purely on vanquishing the big bad. This is especially true in the later levels where it doesn’t as there is enough time to do both. In terms of challenge, this is about as difficult as Onsen Master gets. Unfortunately this forces you to play these levels additional times, in a game which is already incredibly repetitive.
There is also a story behind the bathing action, which is told through exchanges between the characters. I can’t lie, I had no idea what was going on and the rambling nature of the conversations didn’t help. Fortunately, the narrative feels so detached from the actual gameplay that there’s really nothing to worry about.
Away from the story, there is an arcade mode should you wish to replay any levels, a “stock” mode with lives or you can opt for the Endless Mode. I must say that after playing through the story I felt like I had seen pretty much everything Onsen Master had to offer; my appetite for these other modes was weak to say the least.
There are a fair few multiplayer options packed into Onsen Master too, such as co-op play and local head to head battles. Again, it depends on how much you enjoy the core game as to whether you will make use of these, because rather incredibly the game manages to play almost exactly the same across every mode. This makes the price tag of £12.49 feel expensive, mainly because it’s severely lacking in variety.
What I will say is that Onsen Master is fairly pretty, with the visuals and soundtrack tying everything together nicely. It won’t wow you in this department, but it does a convincing job nonetheless. The game is optimised for Xbox Series X|S, but I’m not really sure how much of a difference that makes.
Onsen Master is a quirky take on the management genre, but it’s incredibly simple to play and does virtually nothing to build on it. It does feel aimed squarely at younger gamers who I’m sure will enjoy it to a degree, but there’s little here to keep others invested.
Despite feeling a little different, Onsen Master is a shallow, repetitive game that even a seemingly generous amount of game modes cannot cure. You’ll know after the first few minutes whether this is for you or not.
Onsen Master is on the Xbox Store