Different games are made for different people. I can understand that. Nevertheless, it's disappointing that Nintendo addressed its new game, Style Savvy, exclusively to girls. An adaptation of a Japanese game that Nintendo has already found great success with, Style Savvy is entirely devoted to fashion. You buy clothes, you sell clothes, you dress up your avatar, and you open your own boutique to sell your fashion solutions to the world. When Nintendo sent its alerts and asked us here at CNET to check out the game, we were slightly less than excited about it. That doesn't seem like great news for a game that's front-and-center in Nintendo's holiday lineup, but then again, we're not the target audience.
I am far from interested in fashion, and the box design looked a lot like other DS shovelware released by many, many companies already. To be honest, my colleagues thought I was crazy to even be covering this game in the first place. Still, I was curious. I said I'd give it a try. And so a copy found its way into my DS. And, to my great surprise, it's still in there days later.
First off, this game is a retail/shopping simulator. The main focus is on greeting new customers, listening to their shopping requests, and then recommending a piece of clothing to fit their budgets. It might sound boring, but the reward is guessing right and getting a very satisfied customer who might buy even more, adding valuable income to your supply. With that money you buy more items from the design center (10,000 items cycled by season and randomness adds up to an Animal Crossing level of diversity). An in-game fashion magazine even shows off new fashion trends for the season, which parallels actual time.
The game starts you off as a store employee and then puts you in charge of your own store, where you try to succeed as well as you can. Everything you wear and how you behave also affects your performance, creating a surprisingly casual, yet deep, experience...and as you can see, I pretty much became hooked. I'm not embarrassed to admit that. The game is also controlled via stylus and with the DS turned on its side in "book" format. Its pace is slow enough for a subway ride, and the many small interactions create a persistent microgame that can be played in intervals as small as a minute.
My main issue, however, is that this game is officially targeted at girls. I started playing, and the store manager asked for my name. I said Scott, and was promptly introduced as, "Our new employee. Her name is Scott." There was no way to be a boy. Not that that matters, per se (after all, many women have been forced to play as male characters over the years, so this is fair play), but it feels like a bit of an assumption that I, in fact, would be a girl. Is Nintendo making a mistake here? Games specifically targeting the female demographic don't seem to be entirely necessary when it comes to the Nintendo DS. The DS is already tremendously popular among women, and many of Nintendo's best games have cross-gender appeal. My first instinct was to call this sexist. After all, why does a fashion game have to appeal only to women? Is Nintendo not aware of "Project Runway?"
On the other hand, I appreciate Nintendo's occasional commitment to original ideas. When Brain Age and Nintendogs were initially released, they were interesting new directions for the DS handheld. Similarly, games like Rhythm Heaven and Hotel Dusk: Room 215 have explored more obscure genre territory. I wasn't ready to dismiss Style Savvy so easily, so I promised myself that I'd spend a good weekend with the game, and see how I felt about it all.
Granted, I'm not the target audience. My wife, who also has a Nintendo DS and enjoys games like Animal Crossing and Tetris, is a better fit. She was initially intrigued by the idea of Style Savvy, but after playing for a few minutes found it uninteresting. The store interface wasn't doing it for her.
As for myself, I instantly saw a lot of Lemonade Stand in the design. You have to carefully pick a piece of clothing based on a customer's requests, and if you get it wrong you just might lose a sale. The reward of positive feedback (Hey, I guessed correctly! They like my taste!) also makes Style Savvy a social simulator. As the game progressed, I made runs to the design center to buy new clothes from different designers, stocking the store based on my whims. There are a number of distinctly themed fictional fashion labels, making it possible to stock your shop with a particular aesthetic. Players can even do business with other DS user/shop owners over Wi-Fi.
I was surprised by how long I played this game, and with how much interest. It's true, Style Savvy seems like a niche title. After all, the many menus and interactions aren't a quick-fix type of experience, and the persistent world you create feels more like a fashion RPG. There are a few disappointments regarding DSi compatibility--not using the built-in camera to add fabric patterns or a photo of yourself seems like an oversight, and the online play modes don't materialize immediately. I also found some of the fashion designs and "showcasing" of outfits to walk a fine line between innocent and overtly sexual; playing this game on a subway, as a man, made me feel very uncomfortable, especially since I was essentially tapping on full-screen images of women in various states of dress. But I wouldn't be surprised if this game does better than anyone expects it to, simply because Nintendo's first-party seal of approval will elevate this game on store shelves and get it in front of more potential customers.
Other than The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, this is Nintendo's last big holiday release for the DS this year, so there's quite a bit riding on this game. But what is this game exactly? A "girl" game? Or (more likely) a game for fans of Japanese teen culture and fashion? Or is this simply a sticky store-owning simulation with some extra wrinkles? While I played without feeling alienated, I'm not sure that would be the case for many men or boys. So, to the female contingent out there: does this appeal to you? Nintendo's done it before with Pokemon, Nintendogs, and Brain Age...can Style Savvy work that crazy Nintendo magic one more time?
Style Savvy is out now, and costs $29.99.