Casual games are extremely popular on the PC and have trickled onto other platforms, even consoles, but especially handhelds. At least handhelds that aren’t the PSP. Even PopCap, which has published games on just about every platform that can play games, doesn’t have any on the PSP. So it’s nice when smaller companies, like in this case G5 Entertainment step in to fill that void, with their own casual titles, this time Supermarket Mania.
Casual games are really a misnomer, they are often anything but in terms of gameplay. They can be as frantic and challenging as any hardcore game, they just involve a more everyday subject matter. Supermarket Mania is one of those frantic and challenging games, at least the PSP incarnation.
You play a young woman named Nikki who works in a supermarket. She is a combination stocker, janitor, and security guard. She must keep the shelves of the store filled with products, clean up any trash, and keep an eye out for troublesome customers. All at the same time. So she has a very busy job. Or rather, you do, as you are controlling her.
In practice, fulfilling these tasks is simple. To stock a shelf, you simply select it and press the X button. When your cart is empty (you need to do it every five shelves you stock), you need to refill it using the square button. Trash is essentially the same, highlight the trash, hit X, then hit the triangle button to take it to the dumpster. To call in the security guard to stop any mischief in the store, you hit the R button. The game adds more complications as you go on.
The tricky part is you have to do it very rapidly. You have a lot of customers coming into the store. You can see their thoughts, so you know which shelf they are going to. Ideally, you want to stock the shelves before they get there, as if they have to wait for an item, they get mad. Eventually they get so mad they drop their bag and leave the store.
At first they are relatively easy to please. Customers come in several types, and each type has generally the same interests. So there is some strategy involved, as you know what they are probably going to buy, you can prioritize your efforts and queue up your actions. As you progress, more varieties of customers visit your store, and these new customers are less and less patient.
Each stage lasts only a few minutes, but it’s a very hectic few minutes. Much like a work day, you’ll be glad for a rest when it’s finally over. After every stage, at least after you get fired from the evil TORG Corporation and start working for Corner Mart, you can spend money you made on upgrading your store.
There are over fifty stages, each has a different twist or scenario, as well as introducing new things to cope with. This helps keep the game feeling fairly fresh, even though you do the same basic stuff over and over. Every so often you move to a new store. Some of the upgrades carry over, but most don’t.
Besides the story mode, there is also an Endless Mode, where you just play until ten customers get angry and leave. There aren’t any options for this, but you do earn power-ups while playing. You can also go back and replay any stage in story mode.
All in all, a very solid, if frantic game. The main drawback that I had with it, is the controls. You navigate from item to item, be it from shelf to shelf, or shelf to trash, or whatever, using the d-pad. It automatically cycles through the items, but just what the next item it’s going to cycle to is not always obvious.
You do eventually learn the pattern that it cycles through, at least for the shelves. But once the trash is brought into the picture, it confuses things dramatically. G5’s previous title, Mahjongg Artifacts: Chapter 2 had this same issue, but in it, it was just annoying. Here it’s very frustrating as the time factor is very important – you watch customers get angry and leave and you are just helpless, as you can’t figure out how to reach that shelf.
On one very early stage, the fourth one, I struggled to complete it because as part of the scenario, trash was everywhere. Took me almost ten tries before I could finish, because I couldn’t reach the shelves and there was no margin for error. I realize that it’s difficult to bring a game designed with a mouse in mind to a platform that has no obvious way of replicating one (this is probably why the PSP doesn’t have many casual games, actually), but they could have given you more room to make a mistake.
That’s my other complaint with the game – no difficulty setting. This game require both quick thinking and quick reflexes, which is not something that everyone has in equal amounts. Especially for a casual title, difficulty settings are really a must. What I found hard, I’m sure some found easy.
Still, it’s an entertaining game, with a great deal of charm and more challenging than I expected. If you are looking for something that will test your mind and fingers, then Supermarket Mania is a good pick-up.