Passport to Perfume

Picture 15Now and then I get review copies of things that turn out to have too little narrative content for a Homer in Silicon column, but are decent enough that I play them for a while anyway. Passport to Perfume is one such: a new casual game from Playfirst.

Passport does the thing a lot of casual games do these days: “innovate” by combining standard existing types of gameplay — in this case time management and hidden object segments.

This is not what appealed to me. I’ve played enough generic time management games for a lifetime now, and hidden object has never been my favorite.

What appealed to me was the third element of the game, the ability to mix ingredients to create your own new perfume blends. It sounded derivative of Chocolatier: Decadence by Design, where you can mix ingredients to create your own chocolates — but since I liked Decadence by Design and thought there was some unexplored potential in its mix-and-match gameplay, I was curious whether Passport took this idea further. (It was pretty clearly ripping off borrowing heavily from the Chocolatier series in other respects, with retro-looking maps of the world and exotic locations for the heroine to visit for new ingredients.)

The answer to this question: sort of. Decadence by Design was frustrating because, though it was fun to think about the flavors of the ingredients you were mixing, it was very hard to figure out which combinations might lead to more valuable products, and the game feedback on this issue was poor.

Picture 16Passport to Perfume has the opposite problem. Each ingredient in a perfume mixture adds to the time the mix takes to dispense (thus affecting how easy it is to deal with the time-management portion of the game, where you’re serving up perfume bottles) and also to the value of the final mixture. Each ingredient gets a little bit of flavor text and a rating of “popular”, “very popular”, etc., but it wasn’t clear to me that this popularity significantly affected how many customers wanted a given perfume — so all that really matters about an ingredient is its value/time ratio.

There’s a little bit of nuance to this in that you get new ingredients over the course of the game (from the hidden object screens), so there’s an incentive to keep tweaking the mixes as you get better ingredients. You can also upgrade your dispensing machines — so while in the beginning of the game you usually want to keep a perfume mixture in the “very fast” to “fast” zone, later on you can afford to make “average” or even maybe “slow” perfumes (if everything else in your shop is running quickly enough). But again, the question of what to add is a trivial optimization based on the ratio of two numbers; in the later stages of the game you can just afford to add more ingredients. There’s no idea that specific elements interact with one another in interesting ways, and though perfumes can come in several categories (floral, Asian, and woody), there’s no concept of perfume structure, of top vs. bottom notes, etc.

The other thing I liked about the Chocolatier series was the lyrical description of the chocolate ingredients. Here again Passport tries to do the same thing, but manages to kick it down a notch. If you’re interested in reading evocative, sensual, and often bizarre perfume descriptions, there are places to find such things. This game isn’t one of those places.

Okay, so Passport to Perfume is not a rigorous simulation of perfume mixing, nor is it an evocative love letter to the perfumer’s art. It’s a basically competent amalgam of ideas that already work (and to be fair the hidden object sections bored me but didn’t make my eyes hurt, so that’s something), and one semi-new gameplay element that has no conceptual subtlety unless you’re stumped by elementary division. There’s a nominal story-line, but it’s even more perfunctory than usual for such games.

I’ve played much worse things, but it makes me a little sad that if they were going to go to the trouble to make this game, they didn’t try to do something a little more engaging with the pieces they introduced.

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