Review: Pixel Shopkeeper

By Craig Robinson 31 Jul 2017 1

Review: Pixel Shopkeeper

Released 20 Jul 2017

Developer: Pixel Prototype, LLC
Genre: Simulation
Available from:
Steam
Reviewed on: PC

In a world where Student Loans have gotten too far out of hand, Pixel Shopkeeper is a struggle for survival as your character joyfully graduates University only to succumb to a life threatening debt. Set with a challenge, this little pixel person runs off into the fields and creates their own shop as a means of survival. This indie title attempts to merge a familiar real life environment with challenging gameplay, designed deliberately to invoke strategic thinking.

The aim of the game is to establish a shop and pay weekly bills that chisels away at the character's total debt. Every week you face increased difficulties in paying it back, to the point where succeeding looks thin. Failing to pay your due will result in a bitter death with a savepoint on the day before you died.

Gameover

Complete with a little mocking message

To set up a shop, you must first have things to sell. Not only are you a shopkeeper, but you are also a fierce warrior that enters dungeons to earn loot. This loot then goes to the shop shelves and is sold to members of different guilds looking to buy specific items. Therefore, the game's design has two differently designed elements that string together to create a flat-out challenging experience.

The dungeon mechanic is fast paced and challenging as it requires the player to pay attention to the character’s health, bag space and items you really need to stock. You enter the dungeon slowly, only to be swarmed by mobs, which drop bountiful amounts of loot, which you need to prioritise and store as effectively as possible. Each dungeon also has its own set of challenges and specialities, along with a loot system designed to accommodate the different guilds. Each faction is attracted to a specific type of gear and weapon, adding to the strategy level that these features offers. After completing a dungeon, three different chests drop, of which you can only choose one. These chests have a chance to drop any item you have discovered from dungeons in your save; some will drop a few items, some will drop lots of them, whilst others can drop bags of gold; it is all based on RNG.

Chest

The three chests to choose from, along with the frozen modifier on the inventory management

In terms of variational challenges, there are different modifiers to each dungeon that makes them a unique experience. Each is deliberately designed to be harder than the last, encouraging you to spend a day of the week training. Furthermore, when you finally unlock all the dungeons you can pay an entry fee to enter the second tier of difficulty. As for the varying dungeons, each has its own difficulty modifier. One example adds a freeze effect to items when placed into the bag, which makes inventory management harder. Another can take space up through dirt gathering on tiles, whilst other inventory modifiers are a timed clean-up. Each of these challenges makes the game very rewarding when dealt with correctly.

Dungeons

Tier 1 and Tier 2 dungeons

In addition to the varying layers of difficulty and strategic approach to dungeons, bags add another level of risk and reward. There are many that exist in the game, ranging from small to large and come in many different shapes, which is important to consider when going to loot. Some instances might reward gear in a blocky, flatter, or curvy style item sizes, which means each bag has its own strengths and weaknesses for each loot run. Although, there are other elements to consider as some have power up tiles. If an item is placed onto at least one power up tile, then they receive its bonus. Some may duplicate the item placed on it, one might double its gold value, or one will send it straight to the shop. Each option is designed to challenge the purpose of the dungeon run, and what extra rewards you could gain or miss.

Bags

Different bags with different modifiers for the bag

With these features coming together in a short dungeon run, the game comes across as ambitious and exciting with its fast paced and mouse intensive gameplay.

As for the second half of the title, you are a Shopkeeper that tries to rake in as much profit as possible. The shop feature is just as intense as the dungeon feature. Rather than dealing with inventory puzzle management, Pixel Shopkeeper throws out a new heap of quick fire mechanics to keep on top of. The shops front is one of the most difficult mechanics of the game. In a sale day, you are forced to dust your tables, whilst providing the option to pay for gear to be shined for an increased chance in purchase. Meanwhile you have a few members of different guilds that walk by, which could limit potential sales through target audience.

As Pixel Shopkeeper goes, the storefront is arguably the most important mechanic of the game. The storefront has a limited amount of space to put items up for sale once before the day starts, and more space is purchasable as the playthrough develops. As the game progresses, you expand your shop space through better tables and shelves, purchasable in the furnishings tab. Each of these items can offer one or two spaces to place items, which means expanding your shop is one of the most important yet frustrating features of the game. This is apparent when you know you have a certain amount to payback for the week, whilst you also need to prepare for the new demand and future challenges - a part that feels more like a chore than entertainment.

Shopfront features

The storefront features that can spend money to make money

Not to mention the gambling minigame that either earns or loses you money by clicking on random birds and dust balls that occasionally litter the screen. This is a feature that seems just to exist to make the game more mouse intensive with little incentive to use it, unlike its counterparts in the dungeon feature that are integral mechanics.

Although the game has nice features that are crucial to the shops mechanics. Many upgrades can be unlocked, such decorational items, windows, and paintings. Paintings offer boosts to the different guilds that can arrive, meaning you can increase your hand over the target audience of the gear you sell. Windows normally make it easier to mouse manage some of the features of the game, such as controlling dust levels, customer interactions etc. Shop decorational items help to increase profit for certain item types and better engage your patrons, such as increasing armour profits and allowing two customers to buy at once. In addition to purchasable furnishings, clicking on customers can help promote sales as you encourage them to spend at your shop. All of which can make the playthrough feel delightful, until the games bill increments finally catch up to the level your shop is at.

Furnishings

Shopfront items that can help make the game visually appealing as well as rewarding

Contrary to the positivity of the shop features, the farming element can feel frustrating to deal with. The games fixation on mouse intensity can make the farming element feel out of touch. Unlike other factors, mouse intensity is part of the challenge of its gameplay; as for the farming aspect, it is just inconvenient. The purpose of the farming is to grow consumables and crafting items, such as cotton and devil horns etc. The game forces you to click one of ten slots and chose which seed you would like to plant. It feels frustrating you cannot just place how many seeds you want to plant through a multiplicative method. All of which concludes with an annoying spam of notifications based on the variable of seed pickups. For an element that’s purpose is to aid your stores convenience, the way this feature handles seem slightly inconvenient at best. 

Plant

Seed selection screen with plant patches visible to the left side

As of a recent patch, the game has made sandbox available. This mode really offers the chance to explore the mechanical challenges and advanced features the game offers. This so you can fully appreciate the gameplay without the game feeling like it is unbearable or a chore.

Overall, Pixel Shopkeeper is a challenging game at a considerably cheap price. The game has clever mechanics that offers consistent difficulties that reward and punish the player at every opportunity. The dungeon feature feels flawless in its design and is demanding and rewarding through its intensity, with strong enough variation that feels like every instance is consistently worthwhile. Although, the shop front element doesn't share the same magnitude, as some factors feel out of touch or not as relevant as the looting portion of the game. The worthwhile elements do contribute to that level of strategic and feeling of progression. Unfortunately that feeling of progression can become too much of a hassle in its mid and later stages of gameplay and can make Pixel Shopkeeper feel too intense and demanding in the standard playthrough.

This article is part of our SG-1 Volunteer Initiative and was kindly donated to us by the author. For more information, please see this post. 

A very clever and challenging games let down by some poor mechanics, and how it can feel a bit overwhelming/annoying at times.

Review: Pixel Shopkeeper

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