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This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews The Good Life.

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Transcript[]

Since it no doubt won't be long before the government has to start rationing breathable air, and Fox News calls us all socialist cucks for wanting more than three sucks a day, it's obvious why there's a growing niche for cozy life simulator games in your Stardew Valley sort of mold that let us live out unrealistic fantasies of being able to earn a living, own property, and make new friends as an adult. The Good Life is a take on that genre from our old pal, SWERY, the quirky Japanese auteur developer behind Deadly Premonition, J.J. Macfield and the Last Crusade, et al.

If you want my quick estimation of SWERY, if, say, Hideo Kojima was a bag of Cheesy Wotsits, SWERY would be a knockoff corner shop own-brand corn snack that sells for about 10p a bag, tastes like packing material, and clings to your teeth with the resilience of Jean Valjean. But he is an auteur, and worth celebrating for that, even if he's never let himself be held back by little things like "lack of game design competence or original ideas". You can always tell from SWERY's new games what TV shows he's been binging lately: with Deadly Premonition 1 and 2, it was Twin Peaks and True Detective, respectively; with D4, I think he just took a fistful of mushrooms and stared at untuned static for an hour; and now, with The Good Life, he seems to have gotten into Midsomer Murders or something.

It's set in a sleepy little English village in the countryside, with the usual SWERY flavor to it: looks the part convincingly enough until you get too close and notice all the characters are kooky weirdos who talk too much, and all the shop names look like they've been mangled by Google Translate. The open world reminds me a lot of the open world aspect of Deadly Premonition, but with a cartoony, exaggerated artstyle, which is a positive step, because the realistic look combined with being animated on the cheap always made Deadly Premonition look like watching Captain Scarlet while you were home from school with a life-threateningly high fever.

But while the basic trappings of a genteel rural life sim are all here - day/night cycle, planting crops, cooking recipes, house upgrades, a selection of local hotties whom you might aspire to seduce into sharing your idyllic life of waking up at five to ram your fist up a cow's arse - this is all illusion; it's mostly a story-based game, and an all-over-the-place story, at that. We're still wondering where the hell it's even going when we unlock the gameplay ability to transform into a cat and a dog, which is never adequately explained or considered worth worrying about by most of the characters. Then, because it wouldn't be a SWERY game without the tone lurchingly shifting about like a circus seal driving a school bus, a major character shows up bloodily murdered, and again, most of the characters don't consider this worth worrying much about. Indeed, the murder mystery is acknowledged only tokenly, as the circus seal oversteers back and forth between government conspiracies, aliens, Arthurian legend, and a large man who shows up after every chapter to scream at you about lobsters.

But again, like Deadly Premonition, all of the nonsense is held together by an engaging protagonist. Naomi Hayward is an obnoxious New York photographer who has recently come to small-town England to pay off a massive personal debt, and openly hates it and everyone in it at first glance, but her constant status as the butt of all the world's jokes while routinely bouncing back like a hedgehog in a squash court lend her an endearing quality, as she complainingly rides from one fetch quest to the next on the back of a speeding sheep. Yes, your primary fast traversal method is riding a sheep, because fuel prices in modern Britain have long eclipsed the cost of thwacking some fluffy testicles with a stick. It's a fun idea, and a funny image; it's fun being inside your head, SWERY, but every time I'm in here, I wonder why the wallpaper's so badly-hung, and why there's no furniture besides a TV and a piss bucket. How to put this gently? Hmm... You can't design games for shit. Too harsh? You have the game design instincts of a circus seal who has recently been in a horrific traffic accident.

What is even supposed to be the core gameplay loop of The Good Life? Taking photographs is pretty centralized, and there's a mechanic where uploading pictures of trending things earns you money, but you'd make money faster from sucking on the return slot of the vending machine outside Ebenezer Scrooge's house. And I'm not even sure money is supposed to be our motive; the most elaborate thing you can buy is a house upgrade, and it doesn't even cost much. Oh, come on, SWERY! I was with you on the dog and cat transformations and crashed UFOs, but affordable home renovation in today's market?! Now you're just taking the piss!

So money can't buy much, but there are a lot of things you can craft. Trouble is, every crafting recipe calls for an esoteric blend of rare items from all over a field, because SWERY's open worlds are always too bloody big and empty, so everything's spread out like a line dancing class for sperm whales in social distancing season. Oh, this jacket recipe needs two aluminium chunks, does it? And each chunk can only be crafted from fifty aluminium cans that are only found randomly in rubbish bins, and there aren't even fifty rubbish bins in the game, so I guess we just have to wait for everyone to plow through another six-pack. You know what? My default plain white blouse suddenly feels a lot more fetching; thanks anyway.

But this is just the start of the fundamental design fuckups. Time me; I'm going for the nitpick speed record. The interface is confusing; the vital hunger meter is barely noticeable, and there's a percentage under Naomi's face whose purpose I never figured out. Sometimes, it went up when I slept or ate; sometimes, it didn't, so who fucking knows? The map is criss-crossed with fences and walls that your sheep can't jump over, but you can just get off, turn into a cat, jump over it, turn back, summon your sheep again, and press on, and somehow, just giving the sheep a "Jump" button never occurred to anyone. Oh, and some of the walls are too high to jump, but your map will be buggered before it tells you which. Stamina doesn't drain in mid-air, so your cat can sprint infinitely while bunny-hopping.

Combat as a dog is as deep as a gnat's twat; you just dodge the enemy attack by moving slightly to the right and then bite them in the bum. I took down a bear this way, and it didn't hit me even once, 'cos whenever it attacked, it just lunged straight over my tiny, impish hitbox. Some quests need to be tracked to progress in them; some don't. Some of them mark the location of relevant NPCs; some don't, and good luck finding any of these wandering fuckers without a police stakeout unit. Oh, and there's a fucking limited inventory, but the limit's so big, you won't know until fairly late in the game, when you're blocked from picking up yet another piece of random bullshit that you don't even know if you fucking need. Give us a low limit that we hit early in the game, and then flog us a pack upgrade, SWERY! This is all basic fucking stuff!

"And so on and so on, Yahtz, but you were engaged enough by this game to finish it, so all this shit can't have been that important." Yeah, I finished it; I'd be pretty distracted by roadkill if it was wearing a funny hat. That's what you are, The Good Life: you're a dead squirrel in a little, tiny fez. Don't want to get too close, but it raises interesting questions, like, "Is that actually a fez, or did you just fall out of a tree while trying to eat a yogurt?"

Addenda[]

  • YEEEEAH BABYYYY: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Alternatively maybe The Good Life was inspired by the TV show The Good Life, but that felt a bit needlessly confusing as a gag
  • My dog's hitbox gets very small indeed when it's time for his bath
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
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2008
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2009
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Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
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Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
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2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
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Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019 - 2022
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw · Control · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan · Remnant: From The Ashes · Blair Witch · Gears 5
Q4 Astral Chain · Contra: Rogue Corps · Ghost Recon Breakpoint · Indivisible · The Outer Worlds · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare · Luigi's Mansion 3 · Death Stranding · Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order · Shenmue III · 2019 Games I Haven't Reviewed Roundup · Phoenix Point & Bug Fables
2020
Q1 Top 5 of 2019 · The 2010s' Most Significant Games · Boneworks · MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries & Wattam · Journey to the Savage Planet · The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners · Kentucky Route Zero · Zombie Army 4: Dead War · Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem · Dreams · Doom Retrospective · Black Mesa · Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Q2 Doom Eternal · Half-Life: Alyx · Resident Evil 3 · Animal Crossing: New Horizons · Final Fantasy VII Remake · XCOM: Chimera Squad · Cloudpunk & Streets of Rage 4 · World of Warcraft: The Corrupted Blood Incident · Ion Fury & Void Bastards · Maneater · Minecraft Dungeons · Shantae and the Seven Sirens · Desperados III
Q3 The Last of Us Part II · Persona 4 Golden · Stadia · Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise · Paper Mario: The Origami King · Ghost of Tsushima · Carrion & Beyond a Steel Sky · Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout · Mortal Shell · Spiritfarer · No Straight Roads & Battletoads · Marvel's Avengers · BPM: Bullets Per Minute · Serious Sam 4
Q4 Hades · Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time · Amnesia: Rebirth · Remothered: Broken Porcelain · Ghostrunner · Watch Dogs: Legion · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope · Assassin's Creed Valhalla · Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales · Yakuza: Like a Dragon · Immortals Fenyx Rising · Cyberpunk 2077
2021
Q1 Top 5 of 2020 · Bugsnax and Super Meat Boy Forever · Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond · Demon's Souls (Remake) · Hitman 3 · The Medium · Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood · Little Nightmares II · Breathedge · Persona 5 Strikers · Harvest Moon: One World · Loop Hero and Everhood · Evil Genius 2: World Domination
Q2 Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town · Outriders · Oddworld: Soulstorm · It Takes Two · Balan Wonderworld · Resident Evil Village · Returnal · Biomutant · Subnautica: Below Zero · Miitopia · Necromunda: Hired Gun · Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 · Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Q3 Scarlet Nexus · Mario Golf: Super Rush & Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights · Ys IX: Monstrum Nox · Cruelty Squad · Death's Door and The Forgotten City · The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles · Dreamscaper and Jupiter Hell · Twelve Minutes · No More Heroes III · Psychonauts 2 · Tormented Souls and The Artful Escape · Deathloop · Lost in Random
Q4 Kena: Bridge of Spirits · Far Cry 6 · Metroid Dread · Back 4 Blood · Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy · The Good Life · Sherlock Holmes Chapter One · Call of Duty: Vanguard · Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition · Resident Evil 4 VR & Oculus Quest 2 · Shin Megami Tensei V · Halo Infinite
2022
Q1 Top 5 of 2021 · 2021 Roundup of Games I Didn't Review · Praey for the Gods · Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach · Dying Light 2 Stay Human · Pokémon Legends: Arceus · Not For Broadcast · Elden Ring · Horizon Forbidden West · Babylon's Fall · Ghostwire: Tokyo · Tiny Tina's Wonderlands
Q2 Stranger of Paradise: Final Fantasy Origin · Tunic · Weird West · 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim · Teardown · Rogue Legacy 2 · Trek to Yomi and Ravenous Devils · Salt and Sacrifice · Hardspace: Shipbreaker · Sifu · The Quarry · Neon White · Card Shark and Postal: Brain Damaged
Q3 Bob's Game · No Man's Sky in 2022 · Rainbow Billy: The Curse of the Leviathan · Stray · PowerWash Simulator and Endling · Hell Pie
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