The Good Life begins with a long-winded exposition with colorful cutouts and motion graphics detailing the important relationship between a long-dead entrepreneur and his pet cat. There is immediately a sense that the bond between the animal and man will play a pivotal role in the story. However, The Good Life takes an almost immediate turn as players are introduced to Naomi, a foul-mouthed photographer from New York City. Set in the provincial British town of Rainy Woods, the game attempts to balance mundane activities like gardening and photography with supernatural elements and the inevitable mysterious death that is usually present in any Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro game.
The Good Life attempts to balance these aspects equally, but the end result is a mostly middling experience. Naomi’s reason for coming to Rainy Woods is to uncover the secrets of the village to pay off a hefty debt. Her reasons are solely superficial, and largely remain that way for a good chunk of the game. Given the story largely focuses on her discontent with having to stay in Rainy Woods at all–be in the state of the house she’s been given to stay in, or just unfavorable interactions with certain characters—she feels like an uncharismatic protagonist in an otherwise uneven story. Even when learning that the denizens of the village transform into cats and dogs once the sun goes down and the moon is high, there is a temporary shock that isn’t carried into the rest of the game. Some events feel out of place as the wider cast of characters are introduced, like a bizarre photographer (whose catchphrase is “Lobster!”) that appears as a sort of rival after a woman is murdered.
When Naomi is transformed into her canine and feline counterparts, it too feels the same. The narrative simply moves on from this to another story beat without really acknowledging what previously transpired in any meaningful way. The only thing that sort of sticks out is the murder that occurs some three hours into the story, as it becomes a means of solving a mystery that can relieve Naomi of her debt. Chapters are broken up with short motion graphics that tend to provide random trivia about dog breeds that feel inconsequential or completely unrelated to the story at large. It’s puzzling as to why these were included to begin with or what purpose they might have otherwise served before changes in The Good Life’s development.
Colorful characters bring the village of Rainy Woods to life. You have a local seamstress that moonlights as a streamer, and a bartender that will tell you to “feck off” if you interrupt her while she’s eating on her break. This is largely where The Good Life succeeds. The residents of Rainy Woods are genuinely interesting characters, but don’t necessarily come with the questionable backgrounds those who have played Deadly Premonition will be familiar with. It feels mundane in the best of ways. And they truly feel like people just going about their own business, not concerned with life outside of the sleepy little village. That said, there are some characters in the game that do raise concern. Specifically, the portrayal of the old witch that lives outside of the village, as she effectively fills several tired stereotypes concerning Black characters in media.
While the environments are relatively sparse, Rainy Woods stands out and feels like it could really be a little town in the middle of nowhere in Europe. However, the areas surrounding it are mostly barren and hard to navigate. Stone walls tend to separate the sprawling green fields into hefty sections. This is also where major performance issues begin for The Good Life. When traversing the field, specifically when heading to Burley’s Farm at the outskirts of Rainy Woods, frames will drop at random. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable, and other times you’re chugging along at maybe 3-5 frames per second. It’s a mixed bag. Given how the game looks, it was quite surprising that the game has such severe performance issues. This happened when the Switch was docked and undocked, as performance largely remained the same between the two modes. Additionally, there were several instances of crashing. One time, I had thought my save data had been potentially corrupted, as the game took roughly two minutes to actually launch the application and my subsequent save data. This thankfully wasn’t the case.
It can also be an issue when performing general tasks. After the frame rate drops began in the larger, more open sections of the map, it persisted even when I returned to my house to check on the crops I had planted. It generally sucked the fun out of the game, simply because it would render it mostly unplayable.
But the things I did enjoy were the optional activities I could participate in. I loved tending to my garden, even if it isn’t the most intensive activity in the game, and I really enjoyed the way the game implemented its photography mechanic. Since Naomi owes a very large amount of money (which a debt collector will try to collect from you later in the game), players can take pictures to earn a little bit of cash. Several cameras and lenses are available. Some are pretty pricey! Others are more affordable since they’re second hand, but they allow for you to expand the range of pictures you’re able to take. Players can check the hottest hashtags on the “Flamingo” app to find places, people, animals, and even food to take choice pictures of. It isn’t the most rewarding thing in the world and you’ll need to grind a lot in order to pay off your substantial debt, but it makes traveling fun even if you have to hoof it in the early hours of the game. And getting around does become a lot easier once you’re able to tame sheep and ride them through the countryside.
Side quests are also available to take, with Naomi sometimes commenting on the “RPG-like” nature of her errands. Unfortunately, the level of self-awareness the game has regarding how tiring these activities are ends up being fairly grating. Sometimes these quests involve taking pictures or gathering materials. But they’re mostly there as a way to make cash, because that’s really what the game is fundamentally about. Uncovering secrets and solving the “who done it” style of murder mystery SWERY is mostly known for and the ability to transform into a cat or a dog feel more or less like surface level additions to the game to implement more mechanics, which sometimes make the game feel like it has a lack of focus. As the cat, you can climb and pounce on small game to get furs or meat. As the dog, you can bark at sheep to lower their defense to make them rideable mounts, dig around through trash cans for precious materials, or track down things based on scent. But unless the story called for it or I really needed food, I rarely did these things.
The tutorials in The Good Life are generally not the best either or easy to review. You cannot go back and reread them, which is to its detriment since there are layers upon layers of mechanics. And even then, some of the finer details of you are supposed to understand are not explained in full. I could not tell you what half of the meters underneath my health and stamina bar meant since they were not explained. If they were, I wasn’t able to go back and check in case I’d forgotten. I know that Naomi has to shower and perform “beauty care” consistently to raise her charisma, but the user interface doesn’t properly convey what is what.
Additionally, it features little to no accessibility options in general, which is a shame. The text in the game is extremely small with no option to change it in any way. The game also lacks an in-game option to remap controls. Most of the time I had to play The Good Life in handheld mode to review the text, but even then my eyes would be strained after a few hours.
There is just a lot to do in The Good Life, which means that players can potentially sink upwards of forty-plus hours taking pictures or running mundane, everyday tasks. And while I like life simulators, I don’t like them when they can barely run at over 3 FPS. With a story that lacks focus and with these elements largely feeling like padding, The Good Life doesn’t stand out in any significant way.