The onsen, or hot springs of Japan, are one of those experiences that is incredibly difficult to explain to someone who’s never been. On paper, it sounds weird: go sit in a pool of incredibly hot, natural water with a bunch of naked strangers of the same gender who are almost certainly elderly. But it’s a fantastic, tranquil feeling that everyone should try at least once. For the people of Japan, it’s a ritual that some participate in regularly, and the aforementioned old people might do daily. Since it’s such a grand part of Japanese life, it’s only natural that Kairosoft would turn it into a management simulation game, and, coming onto the Nintendo Switch, I’d say it’s one of their greater titles.
Hot Springs Story is another situation where you’re in control of something, in this case a Hot Springs somewhere in Japan. Since there are so many that exist in the country, it’s up to you to figure out the best way to make your little ryokan (traditional hotel) a recognizable and popular attraction. Each year, you compete to gain the attention of a certain magazine or website and get listed as one of their top hot springs, or, better yet, the top hot spring. This is not an easy task: you need to add different types of hotel rooms, extra hot spring rooms, different amenities (massage chairs, vending machines, pachinko machines) and plenty of visually pleasing installations. After all, the hot spring is about communing with nature as much as it is about yourself. So peaceful bonsai trees, beautiful hydrangea bushes and gorgeous cherry blossoms will all make your Hot Springs Story stand out and be a part of Japanese pride and history.
Hot Springs Story is a very cool simulation experience because it seems to better match the core idea of the game moreso than anything else. That is to say, hot springs are not about hurrying along: it’s all about relaxing and taking time to reflect. Each and every customer who comes into your hot spring is important, because they might be voting for or against you at the end of the year. So you need to take the time to ensure that each person has a grand time in your hotel. So maybe you’ll consider what the businessman likes vs what the old woman likes, and try to find balance in your halls and where you put the noisier attractions. Instead of rushing along and trying to fix or improve things as fast as possible, you need to wait and see what happens. You won’t work in the middle of the night, but you will wait to see everyone head to bed before the time jumps magically to checkout the next morning. You take your time, and it makes you a better manager.
Even better, you find out, through trial and error, about proper placement of rooms in your hotel. That pachinko parlor will net a lot of extra cash from patrons flocking to gamble, but it’ll really lower the appeal and satisfaction of rooms that are directly adjacent to the parlor. In the same vein, having two spas next to each other might allow for visiting family and couples to soak nearby, creating a more harmonious feeling. And if you happen to have a peaceful stand of trees within visible range of those hot springs, then all the sudden they are the perfect sort of place to be and to bring your money. As you find out these combinations, you keep track of them in a handy visual guide that appears under the menu.
In comparison to Game Dev Story, I found that Hot Springs Story ports significantly better to the Switch. There are still text block breaks, sadly, but they seemed to occur less often and were less important (usually someone saying thank you would have a glitch but not advisement from my employees). Additionally, since the hot spring does expand to a pretty large estate, having the widescreen of the Switch made for better management and viewing of everything without needing to pixelate or squint. There’s the option to zoom out on mobile devices, but, unless you have a good-sized tablet, things become a tad microscopic. The Switch allows for easy navigation between areas with a much grander viewpoint. Also, it felt better to have this setup on the television: seeing the enormity of my ryokan and how people milled about gave me a satisfied feeling, like a microcosm of Spirited Away without the ghosts and crying for the last twenty minutes.
Also, the inclusion of seasonal changes adds this layer of realism to Hot Springs Story that keeps you on your toes in terms of coordination and clientele. In the summer months, you might get local visitors and the occasional backpacker who’s heard so much about your establishment, and the trees are green and lush. However, when the winter months roll in, you might get a sudden surge of visitors coming for New Year’s Holiday, looking to spend several days and hundreds of dollars to relax and enjoy themselves. The trees drop leaves and gain a snow-covered appearance, and you feel right at home with the game as it changes. We don’t need to add in crazy details like daily weather forecasts, but having the focus of the game shift with the months just makes it more interesting and engaging.
However, as a larger game and a larger task, this is something that will ramp up and require more time and input. Hot Springs Story never gets to a frantic pace where I’m running around, stressed and clicking, but I found I was less able to satisfactorily put in a couple of minutes and then put it down. On average, I’d say I put at least 10-15 minutes in so that I could properly maintain stuff and get new installations in, use items, check in with customers, balance stats, repair machines, etc. This isn’t a complaint by any means, but it does need to balance expectations. Far from pick-up-and-play, Hot Springs Story will become a pick-up-and-stay-a-while.
But Hot Springs Story, ultimately, shows me that Kairosoft knows what they’re doing. I wasn’t thrilled with Game Dev Story’s port or placement on the Switch, and I think that needs to be patched as soon as possible. In comparison, though, Hot Springs Story feels right at home on the wider screen, with more complexity, possibilities and attraction for players who want an interesting and borderline exciting situation. This also makes me really excited for Dungeon Village, which I need to get my hands on immediately. If you’ve never played a Kairosoft title before, consider Hot Springs Story: it just might spur you to finally book that flight to Japan.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.