Sunday, April 09, 2006

Betty’s Beer Bar Review

Betty’s Beer Bar, developed and published by Mystery Studio.
The Good: Straightforward gameplay, can queue actions, top score list, low system requirements, interesting graphical design, good tutorial
The Not So Good: Becomes too easy and repetitious after a while, no auditory clues to customer needs, no penalty for serving early
What say you? A click-heavy arcade bartending game that’s missing a few key features: 5/8

People like to get drunk. I’m not much of a drinker, but most of the reality shows on TV exhibit lots of drunk people acting stupid. And since reality shows are realistic, it must be true. It’s more fun to get drunk with others, and this is usually done in a social setting like a bar. Now, these establishments aren’t self-serve: you need someone to hand you a drink, and that’s the role of the bartender. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the premise of Betty’s Beer Bar, the alliterative game of bartending fun! You play as Betty, who needs to raise money to move to the tropics. Make that a double!

Betty’s Beer Bar has hand-drawn graphics that have an interesting style. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen nice artwork in a game that wasn’t rendered with polygons, and it’s a welcome change. There are little details around all of the levels that are nice, although the animation of the individual characters could have been better. You’ll never mistake Betty’s Beer Bar for a completely realistic bar setting, but the graphics still work in this game. Most importantly, the environments never inhibit the gameplay, something that could have been a problem if Betty’s Beer Bar was in all three dimensions. The sound, however, is below expectations. The background effects fit each of the locales that Betty serves, but there aren’t any sounds to let you know the status of the customers. I’d greatly appreciated hearing a “beer, please,” drunk moan, or “not on my shoes!” to assist in playing the game better. This is one area where Betty’s Beer Bar falls short; there could have been a lot more done in the sound effects area, but the game was content with featuring the bare necessities.

Betty’s Beer Bar features a story mode, timed challenge, and free play. The story mode is just a linked set of locations, and you move on to the next area when you’ve made enough money through selling beers and tips. Scores from the timed challenges can be uploaded to the Internet so you can compare your skills with others around the beer-serving world. There is a tutorial that explains how to play the game very well, and is a must for first time players. Here’s what you do:

  1. Pick up a clean mug.

  2. Fill the mug with beer at the tap.

  3. Serve to the customer

  4. Take the finished mug to the sink and clean it

All of these actions are done by clicking on the appropriate object with the mouse. It sounds pretty simple because it is, but the skill comes about when six different customers are all at different stages of the process. In addition, you need to serve coffee (in much the same way) to drunk customers (indicated by beer circling their head) in order to make them pay. The game is fairly difficult until you discover that actions can be queued. You can click your next four or five actions, which lets you plan ahead and makes the game a little less hectic and much less challenging. This can get you in trouble, however, when you mix in the drunk customers. Another problem with the game is that you can serve beer to customers before they ask for it, so you can beat them to the punch and get a bonus for serving them quickly. The customers should be angry, say “I didn’t order this,” and storm off, not leaving you a tip. This would make the game more complicated and hopefully more enjoyable.

Betty’s Beer Bar is a game with an interesting premise that falls one or two features short of being a great game. The base game, with its fast paced action, is there, and Betty’s Beer Bar is at its best when the bar is hectic. However, better sounds would be greatly appreciated; I can imagine the stress resulting from customers actually yelling at you instead of just having angry thought bubbles above their head. The fact that you can queue up actions and serve beer before the customer wants it drives down the difficulty of the game and almost makes it an exercise in tedium. Even though it was harder, I had more fun playing before I learned you could stack up the actions; it made for a much more confusing and tension-filled experience. Betty’s Beer Bar certainly stands out as an original game, but a couple more embellishments are needed to make it a complete title.