If you like the idea of couch co-op games like Overcooked but would like the gameplay to be a bit more simplified and having less requirements on cooperation, perhaps Onsen Master will be up your street. Playable in single player or two player co-op, you will manage a bathhouse with your customers wanting a nice soak.
Gameplay is divided into four parts. When a customer a arrives they’ll have one of five ingredients above their heads. You’ll need to grab the right ingredient and grind it up in the prep area with the right analogue stick, then drop it in the bath tub. Once done, you’ll grab the customer by the hand and drag them to the bath where they will hop in if there’s room and the water is fresh enough. Customers will need baths cleaned every so often so that’s a thing and customers also create mess on the floor so you’ll need to mop up after them too. Bosses add additional issues and there’s a boss for each of the six bathhouses you’ll manage. These add in unique mechanics each time and are some of the standouts of the game. To help position where this game sits, its all about time management, not co-operation. You don’t chain things up or put something through a process to bring together a whole. This means Onsen Master feels more like Diner Dash or Build A Lot rather than Overcooked. Speed is key.
The game is rough around the edges though and it effects the gameplay. When you drag customers around they get stuck in the scenery visually but in the game, they are coming with you. It creates a dissonance regularly that what you see isn’t what is happening. Then a customer flies across the screen to catch up and sometimes your own character goes flying too. Scoring is also odd. Bosses gatekeep the next bathhouse and scoring doesn’t matter. On the first playthrough, we got a 3 star on some bosses but didn’t clean the boss three times, so we trumped the level but failed the boss and couldn’t progress. The game doesn’t tell you this though and we thought we’d reached the games end! We then ignored all customers, cleaned the boss three times and just one starred the level and we progressed. Odder still is the versus mode. You don’t actually battle each other. Instead, your scores are individual and the highest score gets stars for progression. There’s no incentive to actually battle if you want to progress. I’d argue versus mode doesn’t really exist here.
Onsen Master needs some polish before it becomes a recommendation. It also feels like it’s lacking a gameplay mechanic to round off everything else that’s here. It feels repetitive without adding real challenge. There’s some nice ideas but whilst the bathhouses offer some variety in how you go about things, they all expose scenery clipping and contextual mapping of the same button issues that put barriers in your way to enjoyment. Everyone I’ve played Onsen Master with have been very middling with it. Is it terrible? Not at all – it just doesn’t capture the gamer and bring them along for a journey.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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