Game review: VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action comes to Nintendo Switch

The non-linear nature is extremely impressive for what on the face of it seems to be such a simple game and while the visual novel description brings to mind a barely interactive text adventure VA-11 Hall-A feels much more dynamic and interesting than that. The gameplay element of mixing drinks isn’t vey interesting on its own though, especially as you can’t really fail and are always free to just start your concoction again from scratch if you’re not happy with it. Why no effort was made to make the drinks side of thing more entertaining we don’t know, but it has no intrinsic appeal on its own.

Originally released on PC in 2016, like most indie games VA-11 HALL-A is very well suited to the Switch, which has no trouble with it on a technical level. It works very well as a portable game but it’s also released this week on PlayStation 4 for the first time, with all versions featuring the same content.

Although the boring bartending is an issue the other questionable element of the game is the dialogue and its approach to certain issues. The setting and graphics (and wonderful synthwave soundtrack) justify a certain level of heightened reality but the attempts at humour often fall flat, and portraying most of the female customers as being almost permanently horny sees the game drift uncomfortably close to anime style exploitation. And that’s before you consider how old Dorothy is meant to appear.

The game can be awkward at times, but its heart seems to be in the right place; even if the idea of giving someone more booze than they asked for, just to get a story out of them, does seem morally questionable. But clearly Glitch City is a rough town and the overall experience is still very enjoyable, and one of the most uniquely successful narrative-based games of recent years.

VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

In Short: The gameplay, and some of the dialogue, could do with some refinement but this dystopian drinks-making game has some of the most interesting storytelling of the last few years.

Pros: The set-up and characters are all very engaging, with pitch perfect graphics and presentation. Interesting and generally well-written characters. Great soundtrack.

Cons: The drink mixing is unnecessarily dull and restrictive. Some dialogue strands can come across as distasteful.

Score: 7/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC, and PS Vita
Price: £10.99
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Developer: Sukeban Games
Release Date: 2nd May 2019
Age Rating: 16

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