Release Date: October 6, 2008
If you've played Diner Dash or Cake Mania, then you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Pop Cutie! Street Fashion Simulator for the DS. Even though the name is pretty ridiculous, it's a surprisingly deep game that possesses the addictive nature of titles like Diner Dash but combines it with a few RPG elements that add a lot of innovation to the overall gameplay.
It also helps that the "story" in Pop Cutie is some pretty crazy stuff. When you begin the game, it'll prompt you for your name and gender, which is pretty standard for an RPG. Then you'll see your on-screen avatar as he or she is approached by a guy wearing a bunny hat, who tells you to get up and wash your face. Washing your face is how you select your in-game appearance, which is a pretty different approach to character creation, though it's on the overly simple side. Later on, you'll discuss your dream of being a fashion designer with a friend, and it'll establish that you know how to sew and just need a place to sell your wares. Once again, bunny hat guy shows up and tells you to open a stand at the flea market. The story basically propels you to the storefront, but it doesn't make a lick of sense. It does establish the style of the game, though, and while you start off with some basic clothing options that are definitely within the norm, it'll quickly spiral outward to some off-the-wall fashions.
To create your own clothing line, there isn't a sewing mini-game or anything like that, which is what I was expecting to see. Instead, you'll walk around town and talk to random people, and you'll pick up particular words, highlighted in either red or blue, which you'll use to create your different items. Once you've collected a few of these words, you'll be ready to design your own clothes. I'll admit I was disappointed to see that the design aspect didn't have much of a freeform option, such as a paint application to spray on your own logo, but considering that the game has a very simple design, I'm not entirely surprised. If nothing else, the word system that's utilized is pretty unique, and it's definitely something that I haven't seen in any other title (although my experience with fashion games is admittedly limited).
The red words that you pick up designate the genre of the clothing you're going for, while the blue words comprise the image portion. While it seems like you're going to get some random combinations, there is a system in place. Basically, if you have a red word, you need to find the corresponding blue word to actually create something, and you can't just match it randomly to any blue word that you currently have in your inventory. That aspect is also a little disappointing, and you don't actually realize this until you get a little further into the game. Since they don't mention this fact in the opening tutorial, it was disappointing to find out that things aren't quite as open-ended later.
Even if the item creation is a bit lacking, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy in Pop Cutie. Once you're given a store, you'll have to stock the shelves and keep the customers happy, which is where the Diner Dash-style comparison comes into play. You can hire help, with up to three employees who will be responsible for talking to customers who are standing around, handle item sales, or even model the clothes you've designed. Along with that, you'll also need to keep your customers happy by keeping an eye on your overall stock and making sure you don't run out of items. Things can get pretty hectic later on, especially as you have more and more designs for sale, but thankfully, the touch-screen controls keep the action pretty fluid, and it's easy to get the hang of things after an hour or so of play. You can keep an eye on other designs — and other designers — to keep your shop as relevant as possible. You can also interact with the customers through a simple dialogue option to get a feel for what they're interested in or what might sell.
Once you get the hang of running the store and bringing in new employees, you'll want to spend more time coming up with unique designs to fit the needs of your customers, which is pretty much how you succeed in the game. You'll have sales goals to make, to give the game a little direction, and while you can pretty much do your own thing, your goal is to constantly expand upon your selection of designs.
Aside from running your shop, every so often you'll get to participate in a Fashion Battle against another designer, where you'll be given a select number of item types to sell and a time limit, and you'll simply need to outsell your opponent. This is actually a lot of fun, and for me, it's where most of the challenge in Pop Cutie can be found. There's even a versus mode that you can play with a friend, provided he or she has a copy of the game, and this plays out exactly like the Fashion Battles in the single-player mode. Unfortunately, it's only through a local wireless connection, so you'll have to be close by someone else who owns the game, which could be a bit of a stretch. I wasn't able to try out this mode either, so I'm not sure if it has any bugs or issues, but at least it was included.
Pop Cutie! Street Fashion Simulator isn't without a few flaws, it's still a really solid sim title on the DS, and I'd easily put it up there with Diner Dash, especially when it comes to the addictive nature of maintaining a shop. The touch-screen interface is easy to navigate, the controls are simple, and it doesn't take long to get relatively decent results out of the item creation system. It's not the best-looking game on the DS, as the animations are pretty choppy and the work on the grid-based isometric plane feels very cheap, like a flash PC title. The music also gets really annoying after an hour or so, but the gameplay is surprisingly fun, so it's worth checking out if you enjoy the shop management sub-genre of sim titles.