In an age dominated by competition, it's worth remembering that video games can be relaxing as well as intense. Sometimes, you don't want to struggle for dear life - you just want to kick back and enjoy an experience that unfolds in its own due time, without the need to stress over perfect play.
For those of you who appreciate an easygoing experience, Mineko's Night Market might be right for you. It's the next best thing to actually doing arts and crafts in a remote, idyllic Japanese village.
The Legend of the Sun Cat
There's a legend about Mount Fugu, one that still plays a big part in the culture of the people who live there even if they don't necessarily believe in it. It's said that the mountain is home to Nikko the Sun Cat, a mystical being with the power to make crops grow at incredible speeds. Long ago, Nikko was chased away by villagers who envied the recipients of his blessing, and since then he has been little more than a fairy tale.
Mineko is the newest resident of the island of Mount Fugu, brought there by her father - a legendary ramen chef who now spends his days drinking tea and watching baseball games. They aren't even there a whole day before Mineko realizes that there's something amiss about the island. The area outside of her village is crawling with "Agents" - men in black who are inexplicably abducting all the cats they can find - and her one new friend suggests that their presence is connected to Nikko.
Could the Sun Cat be real after all? And might Nikko's blessing be enough to restore the village to its former glory?
Mineko's Night Market is an all-around easygoing game built around exploration. It has some aesthetic similarities to the critically beloved indie game A Short Hike, but the guts of Mineko's Night Market are more influenced by the Animal Crossing series. The player's objective is to restore the village by helping out its denizens, unlock and explore new regions, and ultimately find a way to return the Sun Cat to his home.
Mineko begins each day in the village but she won't stay there for long. There's a free bus that can take her anywhere she's discovered previously, and the player can reveal new areas to explore by purchasing tools. Initially, these areas are full of Agents who won't let Mineko do much, but if she can rescue all the cats in an area, the Agents will depart. As an ordinary child, Mineko is limited in how she can deal with the agents - most areas need to be cleared either via stealth or by solving puzzles.
Once an area is free of Agents, Mineko can return to that area to gather crafting materials. Mineko is quite the creative child, and by doing favors for villagers the player will eventually unlock a wide range of craftable items. Gathering materials and assembling them into sellable products involves the many completing the many minigames in Mineko's Night Market.
You're not just crafting things to pass the time. Many villagers will need Mineko's talents to satisfy their needs, but the main function of crafting is to have things to sell at the titular night market, the heart of the game experience.
Life at Night
The night market occurs at the end of every Saturday and can be divided into three parts. First, Mineko goes to her own stand to sell her wares. This is the main means of earning money, but it also levels up the market. Like the village, the night market isn't what it used to be, but selling a lot of wares also attracts more vendors. This means that there will be more options available in the second part, in which Mineko can use her hard-earned money to buy rare and exclusive items from anyone else with a stall.
The third part is that each night market ends with a special event which is dependent on the week and the season. These range from cat races to parades to scavenger hunts, with a good performance netting Mineko a shiny new trophy.
Mineko's Night Market is an almost aggressively adorable game. The whole thing is just so charming, which is high praise considering these games are not normally my bag. It's often worth playing on just to see how the village and night market will develop and to find out what's going to happen to Mineko, Nikko, and the island.
Overall, Mineko's Night Market is unlikely to appeal to the hardcore gaming set, but it's a great choice for anyone who wants to take some time away from their usual fare and enjoy a more chill experience.
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