There are games you love, and games you hate. Then there are games that you hate yourself for loving. Kairosoft's Anime Studio Story is one such game.
It casts you as the executive of a budding Anime production company. You'll need to hire a couple of employees for your dingy office and start making cartoons.
There's a limited pool of themes, characters, and settings to choose from, with different popularities and costs.
So you pick what you can afford, set your meagre staff to work, and release the result on a niche network. The critics will hate it, and the audience will mostly ignore it.
But it'll make your money back, plus a bit of profit. And that profit is the first step down the road to damnation.Push button
You can make more money with jobs on the side, like designing mascots or doing cutscene work. But what it's all there for is to plough it back into the anime. As the coffers grow you'll be able to afford to use more interesting concepts on bigger TV networks.
You'll also be able to hire better staff and train the ones you have. They have different jobs and a set of four skills to upgrade. They can also benefit from workstations like sound studios and cafeterias that you can install in your office.
Slowly, surely, your anime will get better. You'll get fans, you'll unlock new settings and bigger offices, and get to create your own star characters. You might even win awards.
It's a heady brew, but at first it's a struggle to understand what all these numbers and options actually do.
If you search in the menus there's a 26-page text tutorial which explains all the things you can work out for yourself just by playing the game. Yet some of your productions will do better than others, and it's hard to tell why.Pull lever
You'll get some clues in the feedback from critics and TV stations. Some combinations of settings and theme are just more popular than others.
The audience of certain stations have their own preferences. Which staff member you choose to direct the project also has an effect.
Other aspects are purely random. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, one of your employees will have a brainwave about the current show.
Give them some money and support them with "production points" you earn from successful work and they'll have a chance to pull it off. If they succeed, your show will get a boost.
These random buffs demonstrate the tender trap at the heart of Anime Studio Story. It deliberately doesn't tell you how to play, because learning via trial and error is half the fun.
It's also frustrating, but it's the potential for exciting things happening on each shoot that keeps you coming back.
It's almost impossible to lose money, whatever you do. Yet the drive to earn more, to make bigger and better productions, is an incredible rush.
Train your staff, buy facilities, pick a new combination of theme and setting and see what happens. Maybe it'll be average, maybe it'll make the Hall of Fame and win the grand prize at the Anime Awards.
Only the game knows how or why, and it isn't telling.Spin wheel
So you keep on fanning the flames and the coffers grow and before you know it, it's dark and the battery is near zero and you're desperate for the toilet.
Yet there's little skill or challenge in the game. It's an incredible piece of social engineering.
Part of the charm is the chance to build and name your own shows and characters. You can be as silly and as rude as you like. You can make frogs ride tanks, or give a fairytale head to a besuited salaryman. It's great.
Or you can just keep the default numeric titles for everything and use predesigned characters. So you can keep on cranking out cartoons without distraction.
Ultimately, there's not much here except a pixelated hamster wheel. But just like the vet says, Anime Studio Story proves that exercise can be a lot of fun.