Title: Va-11 Hall-a: Cyberpunk Bartender Action
Genre: Simulation, Adventure, General
Developer: Sukeban Games
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Platform(s): PS4, PC, Switch (reviewed), Playstation Vita
Release: 5/2/2019 (Switch)
Ever wonder what it would be like to be a bartender in the future, in a world where your clients are corrupt businessmen, cyber-genetic enhanced humans, and brains in a jar? No? Neither did I, and I didn’t think that this was a game I needed to play until I played Va-11 Hall-a: Cyberpunk Bartender Action.
The Tip and The Top
You play as Jill, a bartender at Va-11 Hall-a (pronounced Vall Halla). She is a witty, take no crap from anyone character, who still has some self-esteem issues. What is great about Va-11 Hall-a is that you are thrust into the world of bar-tending. There is a brief tutorial that walks you through the basics, but after that, you start to take your first customers.
And that’s the beauty of the game. There is no set up to the story, you don’t get an explanation beat over your head of what is going on, rather you learn about the story of the game through your interactions with the customers. Depending on what you serve them, you will get different pieces of the story by making the drinks stronger or serving them certain beverages when they ask for a “manly drink” or “a drink that will sober them up” (which seems a bit contradictory). This also adds replay-ability to the game too.
The characters you meet in the game are interesting and colorful. Some of them are returning customers from before the point in which the game starts, and you learn about their relationship with Jill through the dialog they have with her. Each character felt real and as the game went on, not only did I care about what happened to Jill, but I started to care about the clients as well. The game is gritty and dark, and the characters you meet help set that scene and it feels real. That’s what makes a good story driven game like Va-11 Hall-a.
The character design is well done too. The game has a retro style, yet has this cyberpunk “Bladerunner” feel running through the entire artwork. This game would have been just as good as a text based game, but the artwork adds to the life and feel.
The music is also fantastic and as the bartender, you can pick what music is playing in the jukebox. Again, this was a detail that didn’t have to be there, but adds to the experience of working at Va-11 Hall-a.
The Flip and The Flop
While the game is gritty and dark, there were parts that were a bit vulgar. This certainly isn’t a game for kids. If language and sexual discussions isn’t your thing, then this isn’t a game for you.
There isn’t much of a challenge to bar-tending since you are given recipes and you mix them based the recipe (you can add some ingredients to make the drinks stronger). But it’s not hard to make the drinks. In fact, if you do make a mistake, you can just start all over with no consequence. Granted, the game isn’t designed to be about challenging yourself around making drinks, but the fact that there isn’t any challenge to the bartending aspect might turn people off from the game.
Final Grade: B+
Va-11 Hall-a is a slice of life game that does storytelling right, which is really tricky. It manages to write about a world and create a background for characters without just coming out and beating the story into the audience. Learning about the story through your interaction with the characters by being a bartender in this cyberpunk world is an interesting premise and one that is done well. The game isn’t challenging, but that wasn’t the intent of the game. Slice of life games aren’t for everyone, but if you are looking for a study in good storytelling, Va-11 Hall-a should be on your short list.
Review copy provided by Stride PR