Review – Alchemic Cutie (Switch)
Alchemic Cutie was initially released for Xbox and PC in November of 2021. When it did, it immediately caught my attention, particularly thanks to how gosh darn adorable it looks. Sadly, I didn’t have either platform, so I had no choice but to hope for a miracle. I had to pray to the Lord that maybe one day, hopefully soon, it would hit the consoles I do have – preferably the Nintendo Switch.
Well, it’s June 2023, and it’s finally here. For anyone that knows me, it’s no surprise I’m back at it again with the farm simulators. I’m what you may call a hoe, which is pretty apt, given it’s a farming tool. I’m stoked; however, upon booting up the game, my enthusiasm dropped. I was met with worrying sign after worrying sign. Sure, the music sounded pleasant, but it’s also battered as it loads into gameplay. The stuttering has me wary, but these hiccups aren’t always a precursor to worse, right?
I’m quite impressed with literary prowess. Whoever was at the helm of penning the script has a firm grip on their art. The main character, a little girl named Yvette, spoke precisely like I’d expect her to. She’s snarky with a sprinkle of sass, something that comes out in her interactions with her brother. There’s also a believable child-like innocence about her. Hell, as my session went on, I felt myself being immersed by the wholesomeness overflowing from the seams. I’ve got to applaud the effort, especially with her sarcastic jabs. Although, I’d be remiss not to mention the flaws.
After ten or so minutes in this world, my impressions were positive. The charm I desire in my slice-of-life romps is presented and accounted for. I had a cheesy smirk etched across my face every now and then. Things were progressing swimmingly until minutes became hours, and the slog that is Alchemic Cutie started creeping in. I still stand by my praise of the dialogue, which is exactly why it hurts to see such potential being squandered. It’s boring, and while yes, I do find it extremely cute, the once dripping charisma has completely dried up, and the culprit is the minute vibrancy.
Without exaggeration, a bulk of the citizens within the game’s village came off as lifeless. It’s the weirdest thing, too, because a handful have personalities. They’ve got every facet needed to be looked at as breathable entities. Regrettably, regardless of my earlier opinions towards Yvette, there’s no chance to right the ship. I wasn’t ever intrigued to learn about anyone’s story. A breakthrough did occasionally occur, but as soon as it did, it felt like Alchemic Cutie wanted to nip it in the bud. I eventually resorted to just going through the motions, and whenever I found a delightful character, they’d be weighed down by the monotony.
After a couple of days of dredging through this title, it’s evident the structure is a big thorn in its side. It felt like a hodge-podge of quips were being vomited with no real solid lore. I was faced with mysteries, but the execution was as bland as could be. I had zero motivation to see what secrets there were. An ideal metaphor for my experience is if I were climbing the side of a mountain expertly, only to then suddenly plummet with no hope of salvation. Yvette tries to bring the charm back with her mannerisms, but she ultimately fails, and what we’re left with is wasted possibilities.
I hate comparing because it feels like a cop-out. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable when it comes to Alchemic Cutie because it’s a direct copy of Slime Rancher. To be fair, it does toss in a couple of distinct features, but the majority isn’t, and that poses issues. See, the key objectives that I can partake in here are breeding, feeding, and petting my jellies. By giving them food, it causes them to poop, which I can then use to finish the big orders posted on my farm bulletin board. Naturally, by finishing the task, I gain items and currency. The snacks these critters eat won’t always be store-bought treats, either, and can be found through exploring.
What’s especially cool about it is anything you’ve collected comes with an effect. For instance, seedlings I can find scattered about replenishes a certain amount of my hunger. The excrement, or as this title calls it, beans, help to increase the digestion of your slimy buddies. Others help to boost the experience they earn, as well as make them barf. There’s a variety of different flavors, but I was oblivious to what anything did. Sure, there’s a tiny description to help, but many are ambiguous. My only option was to experiment, which sounds like an engaging feature, but the implementation is horrible, leaving a lot to be desired.
Before reviewing Alchemic Cutie, I looked at Loop 8: Gods of Summer. A key complaint I made there is also prevalent here. There’s an absence of adequate conveyance when it comes to explaining what the hell these mechanics do. I could screw around and learn through trial and error, but I can never discern the outcome – it’s never apparent. I’ve left confused and acting like a chicken with its head cut off, voiding the fun factor. I need a baseline – something to lay out the gist of it. It’s alright to want the player to build on a foundation, but the developer has to throw us a bone and give us clues.
Look, I’m not a lover of negativity, and that’s all I’ve dabbled in the last few paragraphs, so how about I share what I think is a cool feature? Yvette has a flute that she can use for a plethora of stuff. An example would be transforming items, like a seed, into a fully grown sprout. That won’t be all, though, because while each month’s order has a long laundry list of materials, like dyes, beans, as well as flowers, to satisfy, there’s a row of optional junk. It doesn’t need finishing to advance, but doing so gets me extra goodies. It tries to mimic the genre’s greats while adding spice to help it stand out, but it does come with a caveat.
Let’s revisit Alchemic Cutie’s lack of communication – see, I don’t actually understand how to go about obtaining those particular items. Well, that’s a lie because, in a fit of frustration, I ended up mashing the buttons liberally, and by doing that, I accidentally stumbled on the exact method. It turns out that after plucking, say, Dandelions, or any flower, I can use my instrument to transmute them into much rarer variations. Maybe I’m stupid, and if that’s the case, this aspect becomes an accessibility barrier for a subset of folks. It bears repeating that better, more concise tutorials are needed.
The proverbial nail to the coffin is twofold; for starters, there’s a stamina system. It’s pretty much a guarantee in slice-of-life adventures. My qualm isn’t the presence of it, though. See, what irritates me is how rapidly it depletes. Whenever I do an action, half a meter vanishes into thin air. Rest assured, there’s an avenue to take in order to extend it a bit, and I took steps to start that process, but I’ll be real with y’all; I don’t even know what I did. Without a sufficient explanation, it’s a crap shoot – your guess is as good as mine. On the bright side, I can restore energy during gameplay, but the bad news is the amount is minuscule. It empties pretty much as soon as it refills, defeating the purpose.
The second is probably the most detrimental. Yvette has a bedtime, meaning that she refuses to sleep sooner. An argument can be made that as a kid, of course, she’d rebel against that, and while I appreciate the realism, it hampers the experience. During my session, after I finish the errands on my to-do list, which aren’t farming related, I’m zapped. She’s tuckered out and running dry by 10 am, meaning I have no choice but to wait until 10 pm to get some shut-eye. With each in-game hour equating to roughly two and a half minutes, well, I’d be sitting on my thumbs, waiting and being swallowed by boredom.
It’s beyond aggravating because the concept behind Alchemic Cutie is actually so damn sweet. Every bit of my soul was ready to shower it with praise. However, I allowed the exterior to dictate my assumptions about it. Bluntly, I hate how it forces me to adhere to an arbitrary pace set by the studio. The sense of freedom is missing. I’m at the mercy of the code, and if I’m honest, it feels like I’m being barricaded from reaching the end credits too quickly. Basically, it’s my opinion that duration is being prolonged artificially in an attempt to blanket the fact that this title is short.
I suppose the penultimate question on everyone’s mind is if, like other cozy romps, romance’s floating through the breeze. Well, since Yvette is but a child, probably no more than ten or so, it’s a resounding no. Typically, I’d have gripes with this exclusion, but given the cast’s ages, it makes narrative sense. In that same breath, if a crucial element of slice-of-life games is absent, the other facets must be impeccable. Alchemic Cutie has the right tools to be just that, but a handful of decisions hold it back from grasping those heights.
I have journalist friends that had the opportunity to cover Alchemic Cutie when it initially hit the scene. They unanimously thought the dreadful framerate prevented it from being playable while crashes occurred. Some didn’t even write anything because of how bad it was. It was troubling to hear, but with two years in the oven, surely those niggles were addressed. Yeah, they weren’t entirely, but there are improvements. For instance, the stuttering is still a bother, but as you can see by the existence of this coverage, not to an unplayable degree. The audio skips I mentioned at the beginning of this piece are still about, though.
I can also happily report that I didn’t have any crashes. However, the annoying chugging did lead to two outright freezes. I couldn’t move, but at least the music continued as normal. Yvette just refused to walk, maybe due to being in a delinquent stage, or perhaps, and most probable, the optimization isn’t up to snuff. Whatever the case is, whenever it happened, I had no other option but to jump into the Nintendo Switch’s home screen, manually close Alchemic Cutie, and then reboot it.
When it does function correctly, which admittedly is usually, it sounds incredible. It matches the serene atmosphere it’s trying to evoke perfectly. I couldn’t help but feel calm during my session. Thanks to that, I had a lot of conflicting emotions in my stomach. When I was able to sit and take it all in, I was pleased, but when it kept skipping, I held my breath, praying it wouldn’t lock up. I’m especially smitten by the sound of the rain, and, rather shockingly, there are zero frame drops. It’s weird because that signals that the developers worked on optimizing. It baffles me that a leisurely stroll is apparently too strenuous to handle, yet water droplets continuously falling isn’t.
In the end, many sections of Alchemic Cutie yearn for unconditional love. Sadly, right now, it’s rough around the edges, with abysmal tutorials, as well as Yvette having terrible cardio. I’m not having fun whenever I have to kick rocks as I aimlessly meander around the fields, waiting for my bedtime. It’s my biggest pet peeve and has no place in this kind of adventure. One of my favorite parts of games like Kitaria Fables and Potion Permit is the freedom to chat. I want to be engulfed by the cheerful aura as I run around and greet everyone living in the village. Greatness is so close, but until a few patches fix the blunders, it will never meet the standards it could. The inspiration it takes from Slime Rancher proves hurtful, too. Alchemic Cutie fails to emulate it, making me want to jump to the better choice.
The colours are bright and punch you straight in the jaw with its beauty. The sprite work is amazing, though the lack of variation with the NPCs was a letdown.
When I’m unable to properly comprehend the various mechanics, it’s a problem. The unfortunate part is that with actual tutorials, it’s possible this section could be higher.
I really did enjoy the ambiance that it created. The music tickles my ears, and it sounded to me like actual instruments. That automatically gets it two thumbs up. I would have, again, liked there to be variation.
I had no idea what I was doing. I’d figure a few things out, but there were times I couldn’t help but feel that despite what I understood to work, I was missing something. There was no fulfillment.
Final Verdict: 5.5
Alchemic Cutie is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, and PS5.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Alchemic Cutie was provided by the publisher.