The Good Life throws you into its offbeat little tale without much preamble.
After a cute storybook introduction, New Yorker photojournalist Naomi Hayward is dropped off in an Untitled Goose Game-caliber sleepy British hamlet called Rainy Woods, the self-proclaimed “happiest town in the world.” Why is it the happiest town in the world? Nobody knows, but that’s what Naomi is there to find out. The place supposedly has an earth-shattering secret that her employers at the Morning Bell want her to uncover—though because she’s drowning in debt it’s less of a request than a mandate.
Regardless, in the game’s first five minutes, an enigmatic woman in an electric wheelchair gives Naomi a house. Not long after, the Bell has her uploading pictures of the town to an Instagram-esque site, Flamingo, to earn “emokes” (likes). Each is worth mere pence on the British pound, a mechanism used to slooowly pay down Naomi’s debt. In the next hour, she learns everyone in the town (except the woman) turns into dogs or cats at night—and that’s it’s not the million GBP scoop she thinks it is.
Finally, she gets her own feline-canine transformation powers, allowing her to sniff out scents as a pup or climb up walls as a kitty. Each of these by-turns-loopier developments are dumped rapidly and unceremoniously into Naomi’s lap, a less-than-ideal method for getting you used to The Good Life‘s goofy concepts. Coupled with some dated design choices, it’s an awkward way to start a game.
Uh, what did I just read?
For players who have never heard of director Swery65 (actually Hidetaka Suehiro, or just Swery to his fans) this combo of narrative lunacy and often endearingly rough-around-the-edges technical presentation is nothing new. A David Lynch megafan, Swery released Deadly Premonition in 2010, an open-ish world survival horror adventure that starts out as an unapologetic homage to Twin Peaks before veering off in its own wonderful and strange directions. Since its release on Xbox 360 and subsequent ports, the game has become a meme-worthy cult classic as much for its unrefined gameplay as its absurd humor and delightfully eccentric Dale Cooper stand-in, Francis York Morgan. (Also like Twin Peaks and Lynch, Deadly Premonition is really good at being deeply unsettling when it wants to be.)
Swery’s games have since all had equally weird ideas: a canceled-midseason episodic series about a time-traveling detective trying to piece together his wife’s unsolved murder (who also may or may not have a woman who thinks she’s a cat living in his apartment); a college student with the ability to horribly dismember her body to solve normally deadly puzzle-platformer challenges; a sequel to Deadly Premonition that’s full of (spoiler-y) new happenings in the bayous of Louisiana (with a newly skateboard-riding York). Almost all of them have also been unfortunately hampered by performance issues, bugs, and at times clunky implementation.
So it goes with The Good Life, a game that has its fair share of charm, if you can get past the old-school shortcomings of this so-called “debt repayment RPG.” With its bucolic setting and easygoing nature, The Good Life is modeled on life sims like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing. It looks modern-enough mostly, not that you play a game like this for its visuals. But its stiff controls, repetitive in-game dialogue samples (please patch this), and an inefficient cadence that can get gummed up in selection menus in places like shops feel like relics of a game dating from anywhere between 2001 and 2005.