The life of a bartender is filled with a number of colorful characters, each with their own preferences, backstory, and tastes. Spritewrench captures that spirit with their new “noir urban fantasy visual novel” Grimm & Tonic. Does the first episode go down easy, or does it leave a bad taste in your mouth?
Hit It or Quit It – Grimm & Tonic Early Access
The first episode Grimm & Tonic opens up with a number of bombshells. After players choose their gender, players learn that they have been fired from their job and are filled to the brim with anxiety. To make matters worse, death literally knocks at their door, saying that their time is up. There’s just one problem – you lack a soul due to a lack of friends, relationships, and passions. Unsure as to what to do with you, he enlists your help at New Eden City’s dive bar Dead-End. Once players arrive here, they meet the bartender Saul Weston. Handing over the almighty Cocktail Grimoire, he brings you on board and tasks you with dealing with its many patrons.
A visual novel at heart, the entirety of “On the Rocks” has players mixing a number of drinks for different people, all while learning more about these different characters. Gameplay follows a simple formula – players must guess a drink that the patron wants using the Cocktail Grimoire, and then either ask a direct question or make small talk to progress.
However, once the first customer walks into this “watering hole for the soul,” things quickly start to unravel. Drink orders are literally a guessing game – one person’s request for “something sour” lines up with the whiskey sour drink, but another person asking for “something unique” equates to a guessing game that devolves into clicking every entry. It gets frustrating fast, and even cocktail connoisseurs will struggle with matching the drink up to the patron.
Those who get these people what they want will then dive into conversation. Certain people can be standoffish, offering brief responses to friendly inquiries. It oftentimes feels like you’re exhausting all options before finding the right one. It might look like these people have unique backgrounds – one comes wearing a skull, while another works at a startup – but the short length of each exchange fails to go into any depth. Those that successfully chat up their customer will be rewarded with Soul points, though these do not have much weight in the grand scheme of things.
If anything, it is far too easy to get a bad ending. Our playthrough of the episode ran around 20 minutes, and one wrong option put a screeching halt to the title. Things were over before they even began, and though there are alternate endings and B-sides that feature brief character vignettes, there is almost no character development for the protagonist.
Unfortunately, Grimm & Tonic is fairly buggy as well. Not only are there typos, certain dialog choices will hang. The only way to have the plot proceed at these points is to go into a separate menu and close it out, which gets especially frustrating the fifth time you do it in such a short period.
Grimm & Tonic has got an interesting concept, but the first episode’s execution is lacking. There is the potential for something good here, but the awkward dialog and rampant bugs make it far too frustrating to play in its current state.