Developer: Games Cafe
Release Date: November 11, 2008
The term "casual games" is somewhat misleading. The term could be used for a game of any genre that is aimed at an audience that usually doesn't usually play video games, but over the years, it has come to encompass only one of two game genres: puzzle and strategy. Games like Bejeweled, Peggle and Tetris are some recent examples of puzzle titles that have dominated the hearts and minds of casual gamers.
In the strategy genre, casual gamers have gravitated toward SimCity and The Sims in the past. Recently, they've have shifted to much simpler fare, with games like Diner Dash and Cake Mania taking up their time; most of the success is due to the simple control scheme and the addictive challenge of the games. Naturally, with the success of these titles come the eventual clones that try to piggyback on the phenomenon. Most of them fail to capture the magic of those hit titles and are doomed to obscurity, but some are just as good, if not better, than the titles after which they've been patterned. Sally's Salon for the DS is a great example of a title that successfully emulates Diner Dash's successful features without resorting to the food services theme.
The premise of the game is rather simple. You play the role of Sally, a woman whose dream is to open a chain of successful beauty salons. Before she can start thinking about grand openings from coast to coast, she has to start out small. Beginning with a small store in the mall, your objective is to run it successfully and work your way up the ladder from malls to hotels to the big city until you become a salon chain that caters to the stars.
The challenging task in Sally's Salon is that of time management. As the customers start pouring in, you have to rush around to meet their demands, which range from hair washing to dye jobs and exotic haircuts. With so many different customers coming in with so many different requests, you have to find a way to quickly attend to each of their needs so you can meet your monetary goals in each level.
The game captures the same type of fun seen in some casual strategy titles like Diner Dash. It's thrilling to rush around to get to each customer before their patience expires, and the game constantly challenges players to attain increasingly higher scores. The challenge is just about right, but for those who still feel that things are tough, you can add more stations to situate the customers and set up a queue as quickly as possible. Power-ups, like gumball machines and coffeemakers, give customers patience boosts and buy you extra time to attend to their needs. Earn enough, and you can have assistants handle some of the other tasks while you're busy. Al of this comes together to produce a package that is exciting in short bursts, making for a great portable gaming experience. About the only thing that seems pretty odd are the load screens. The load times are short, but the fact that they exist in a DS game is pretty off-putting, since DS owners are used to quick transitions from one scene to another.
The controls are very simple, which is a plus for any game aimed at the casual gaming audience. Almost all of the action is handled by the touch-screen. Since Sally moves automatically, all you have to worry about are the customers. Using the stylus, you take customers from one station to another by simply dragging them to the appropriate area on the screen. Once there, tapping on the station will start the action. Some stations have options, which are also handled by tapping on the desired option to execute it. For most people, that's all they would need to know, though there are a few extra features for those who want to take advantage of them. Dragging and tapping on multiple customers while Sally is already busy with one will set them up in a queue so that the actions are automatically handled once the initial customer is done. If a mistake is made in the queue, hitting any of the system's buttons, except for Select and Start, will clear the queue. As you would expect, the controls are responsive and help you concentrate on the tasks at hand, so you'll never worry about the controls not doing what you want them to do.
The graphics are simple and colorful. With the exception of the world map, everything in the game is rendered in sprites. What Nintendo DS gamers will notice is that the art style is similar to that of the Cooking Mama series. The colors are bright, and the character models very closely resemble ones in the aforementioned series, especially the large eyes and heads on just about everyone. It looks good, and while the characters don't exactly have a lot of space to move, it animates well enough that players will be pleased with the results.
Sound isn't really a big highlight of Sally's Salon, but it does the job well enough. The sound effects are a bit cartoon-like, but considering the environment, the silly sounds of hair-cutting and blow-drying fit well enough. The voice work is minimal, with short sound bites used for each customer as he or she leaves the salon. It's nothing terrible, but it isn't considered top-notch voice acting either. The music is pretty calming; no matter how good or bad the situation is, the music will never contribute to the stress. While the hardcore would scoff at this, the casual audience at which this is aimed will appreciate that the music is soothing.
Ultimately, Sally's Salon is a good example of a casual strategy game done right. The look is nice and clean, the controls are easy for anyone to grasp without having to resort to the game manual, the title is easy to understand, and the game's difficulty and length provide a good challenge. Fans of similar games in the genre, like Cake Mania and Diner Dash, will easily have fun with this title. Given the game's current $20 price point, even those who are only mildly curious about the genre should purchase it.
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