September has been a high-octane month for video games. We got a loud multiplayer shooter in Payday 3, a tense spy thriller in Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, and a whole lot of gore courtesy of Mortal Kombat 1. Doesn’t all that just make you want to chill out a little? I can only take so much blood and noise before curling up on the couch with my cat and smoothing my brain over with something a little gentler.
Fortunately, September is ending with a perfect chaser. Mineko’s Night Market, the latest title from publisher Humble Games, is a laid-back adventure filled with crafting, cats, and commerce. It’s a cozy social simulator that’s all about gathering up resources and turning them into auction-ready trinkets. Slow pacing and repetitive crafting hooks may not be everyone’s speed, but those looking to zone out with a cute game will find plenty of charm in this endearing indie.
The adventure begins when the young Mineko moves to a small Japanese town on an island near Mount Fugu. She gets a bit of background in the form of a feline-filled folktale before settling into her new routines. Each day, she’s able to scour the island for resources and increase her friendship levels with the locals by giving them specific gifts. On Saturday evenings, she participates in a weekly event dubbed the Night Market.
At first glance, it may look like a spin on Animal Crossing: New Horizons with its daily calendar and seasonal changes. In reality, it’s closer to this year’s Hello Kitty: Island Adventure, but with a greater emphasis on crafting and selling. It’s not so much a full-blown life simulator as a local business simulator. During the day, I can pick flowers, fish, cut down trees, mine rocks, and more to gather materials. I lose a bit of stamina every time I do something, so I need to make sure I’m spending each day wisely and focusing on getting the items I need.
That loop can get repetitive quickly. In the early hours, when I didn’t have the money to purchase new tools, I spent days waking up, picking flowers until I ran out of stamina, crafting the same two items I had recipes for, and going to bed. Even when I got items like a fishing rod or ax, each of which introduces its own button-timing minigame à la Spiritfarer, that flow roughly remained the same throughout. Long load times further slow days down, which can be a drag on busier days. You’ll quickly be able to tell if that pace is for you.
Fortunately, Mineko’s Night Market builds on that loop to make all the scavenging worthwhile in the long run. The biggest draw comes from the titular Night Market that caps off each week. Here, I can place any item I’ve collected or built on sale. When someone shows interest, I can choose from a range of prices. Some customers will haggle to try and get a deal, leading to some fun risk-reward as I try to negotiate a deal. It’s a simple, but effective system that makes me feel like a successful local business owner when I end the night with a big haul.
The more money I make and resources I grab, the more I’m able to fulfill villager requests during the day. Each time I do, I’m given a new crafting recipe that expands what I can make at my various crafting benches, like bouquets and paper dolls. It isn’t just effective as a collect-a-thon hook; each one expands the efficiency of my little business. More recipes means more money. More money means I can buy new workbenches and tools. New tools unlock new parts of the island (after completing a stealth cat rescue mission in each area) and give me even more resources to craft valuable items. Once the wheels start spinning, I’m able to get more out of each day. It just takes a bit too long to get there.
What’s more appealing than any gameplay systems, though, are the chill-out vibes of the adventure. It sports a gentle art style, legitimately funny writing, and just a hit of lighthearted mystery as I try to uncover why a bunch of black-suited agents keep kidnapping adorable cats. Even when I felt bored by all that flower picking, I still found myself sinking into it for hours at a time while holed up on my couch. Mineko’s Night Market is a comforting mom and pop shop carving out a niche next to a wave of glitzy, mega-corporate games. I can’t help but support an underdog — or cat, I should say.
Mineko’s Night Market launches on September 26 for PC and Nintendo Switch. It’s coming to Xbox and PlayStation consoles on October 26.
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