If you’ve ever been playing an RPG like Skyrim or Dragon Age and suddenly stopped and thought, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great if you could work as a shop keeper?’ then Shoppe Keep is definitely the game for you. Even if you haven’t thought that, don’t write this game off just yet – despite sounding like you could be signing yourself up for a somewhat tedious day job, Shoppe Keep has a lot to enjoy once you settle in.
There is no real story to speak of in the game; you start up a new save, learn that you’ve just opened a new shop in an unnamed town, and that’s all you get. In comparison to other comparable simulators, this might seem like something’s lacking, but Shoppe Keep isn’t an experience that would really be served by any sort of overarching narrative. Instead, the focus of the game is a surprisingly complex web of strategy and item management, coupled with a progression system that allows you to gradually expand your pool of items and customers.
Gameplay itself consists of a fairly simple loop, starting with the Build Phase. Each morning/evening you’re given the chance to build new furniture or reorganise your shop. This phase has no time limit, so it’s also a perfect opportunity to refill your shelves, grow any crops you want to sell the next day, and unlock any new upgrades. There’s a certain amount of strategy that goes into this time, as it’s the only chance you get each day to work on inventory management without having to constantly be tending the shop. Anything that’s going to take more than a few minutes of attention to accomplish will need to be completed in this brief period of reprieve.
Once you’re all set for the day ahead, you can open up your shop to the general public and get started on the business of making money. Days are split into three sections, Morning, Day, and Evening, but beyond some aesthetic changes and the number of people visiting your shop, the gameplay for all three is identical. What’s brilliant about this is that each section only lasts for five real-world minutes; the core gameplay loop is so short that it definitely draws you into the temptation of ‘I’ll just play one more day’ before setting down the controller to do other things.
Fairly unsurprisingly, your primary goal during the day is to sell as much as possible, for as high a price as possible, but that’s not all you’ll have to worry about. Alongside the aforementioned stock management, you’ll need to contend with thieves (who are seemingly never put off by the pile of bodies building up outside your door), customers who insist on moving your items, and juggling the ever-changing list of ‘hot items’ that will sell out inordinately quickly. In the very early game, this can seem almost tediously simple as you’ll only have a few items to watch over and be so short on money that you’ll rarely be restocking shelves, but the complexity ramps up quickly as you earn more gold and expand your pool of possible items.
This balance of maintaining the shop while trying to level up and increase your reputation – drawing in more customers and barbarians alike – makes up the vast majority of your time with Shoppe Keep. As simple as it sounds, the constant list of small tasks clamouring for your attention is a surprisingly compelling mechanic to keep you entertained and even after several hours of play, there will still be new things to uncover.
Even moments of downtime between customers can be a pleasant experience thanks to the fantastic music that loops in the background. At later stages of the game, you can unlock the ability to change the music, but when you first begin you’ll be able to settle into the three main themes that play during the different parts of the day. The music is perfectly suited to the genre and wouldn’t feel out of place in any other medieval-style RPG.
That being said, Shoppe Keep is not a perfect experience. The most immediate problem players are going to face on console versions of the game is that it has been very poorly ported from PC. This largely takes the form of awkward controls; instead of navigating menus as you normally would by hitting up or down on a controller to change what you’re selecting, you’ll need to use a cursor controlled on the left stick to click what you need. When some moments in the game will ask you to navigate menu screens very quickly to order more stock or accept a new quest, this type of slow navigation can be incredibly frustrating. Look sensitivity is also ludicrously high for a game using a controller, although mercifully the settings menu lets you drop it down just enough to be bearable.
The system is further complicated by the low-resolution text used for in-game menus that is almost completely illegible. Shoppe Keep has no playable tutorial; instead, you can find all the necessary instructions to play the game via a series of text pages that, thanks to their unreadability, can be a very daunting prospect when first loading up a new save. Readable tutorials are never a particularly engaging way of teaching new players the mechanics, but Shoppe Keep’s in particular seem very poorly put together, and for a game that can become quite complex over time, it’s a real hindrance to have to wade through tedious, illegible menus to understand all the moving parts.
These issues can make it difficult to get into the game and are very unwelcoming to new players, but once you’ve reached the point where you no longer need the tutorials and can rely on item symbols rather than their written description, their impact is significantly lessened. There is a lot to enjoy with Shoppe Keep, particularly if you’re into short task loops and steady progression, and if you can get past the rocky opening, then this game is well worth a few hours of your time.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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Shoppe Keep Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
A charming and addictive game where you get to experience what it is to be a beleaguered shopkeeper in someone else’s fantasy-action RPG.
- Highly addictive, short game loop with steady progression paths.
- Very poorly ported from PC.
- Graphics could be much better, although the cartoon style is charming.