For someone who’s not a massive fan of visual novel games, I’ve sure played a lot of them. Whether it’s escaping numbered death mazes, being trapped on a tropical island with a murderous teddy bear or using a time travelling microwave to alter the past, I’ve become quite accustomed to the oddities that this genre can throw at you.
What I wasn’t quite ready for was a nude candy-golem saying the words “Please eat me. I bet I taste great” to a woman she’d just met.
That’s a staple of Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet, a game by NomnomNami and an entry into the lesbian-centric game jam Yuri Jam 2015. It’s never explicit, and seems to coat it’s queerness in layer upon layer of cuteness until it feels like those moments live in between the lines of dialogue rather than directly in them. Still, this game lives up to the brief of the game jam and tells a charming, if occasionally sickly story that’s got a colourful cast of characters.
Syrup, the main character of this story, is an alchemist who’s one focus in life is making the very best candy she can in her lab. She sells her creations in her shop, Candy Altier, which is run by her friend and confident Pastille. This shop sells the best candy because Syrup uses alchemy rather than magic to make her sweets. One day, a full sized candy-golem, a walking and talking collection of sucrose in female form, appears in Syrup’s lab and attempts to befriend her. Eventually taking the name Gumdrop, this golem is the focus of a branching narrative that goes to some weird and wonderful places. This whole paragraph is the litmus test on whether you’ll like this game or not – if that sounded like I was plastering a diabetic fever dream all over your screen, you won’t enjoy this game one iota beyond an easy Platinum trophy. Still here? Okay then.
This game contains all of the staples of the visual novel genre and is played out almost entirely through conversation, either with other characters or as Syrup talking to herself. Characters will show up, they’ll take to the right or left of the screen and their words will appear at the bottom of the screen accompanied by the occasional sound effect. Every so often, you’ll have to make a decision between 2 to 4 choices that appear on screen. Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet has 9 endings you can unlock through exploring these decisions and what the consequences of your choices are. Maybe when Gumdrop arrives in your lab, you let Syrup indulge the golem’s request and let her chow down? Maybe you’re wary of where this candy-golem came from and try to track down her origins, perhaps leading to an old rival, a witch by the name of Butterscotch? While there’s some repetition in every playthrough (thankfully there’s an Auto function and you can skip scenes you’ve seen before) there’s enough originality to keep a player entertained for an hour or 2.
And that’s the main drawback with Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet. Before you know it, it’s over, even on the longest of the story paths. It most definitely shows itself as a product of a game jam with time limits in the regard but the game probably lasts just long enough not to outstay its welcome.
The art work employed throughout Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is really quite charming. It has this anime X western saturday morning cartoon feel to it that’s certainly unique and something I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of in the future. The backgrounds, pencil lined and pale, offer a lot of juxtaposition to the bold and colourful characters too, really making them pop. This is all underpinned by a soundtrack, provided by Mock Off, that compliments each scene admirably.
It feels like I’m bordering on insane by saying the following about a game that’s about a candy-golem that’s begging to be eaten but there’s a few curious moments in the story of Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet which hinder it a little. There’s a set of characters, the Chocolate twins, that are introduced and despite having a grand entrance, don’t seem to have an effect on the story. Their inclusion feels odd and they feel underused compared to other characters. Elsewhere, some of the character motivations seem to swing wildly based on small decisions – this is likely so that the endings could be quite different from one another but it makes the game feel a tad inconsistent.
Nitpicking aside, Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is a fun 2 hour journey through a branching narrative with plenty of queer representation if you go looking for it that will, if you’ve made it this far in the review without shutting the browser, likely raise a smile or two.
It’s a cheap and cheerful title and while it’s not going to be challenging the giants of the genre in terms of narrative or immersion, it has enough charm to carry itself through its run time.
Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is available now on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Pc and Mobile devices.
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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