Puzzler Essentials: Tropical Liquor

For many of you reading this, the words “erotic puzzle game-cum-dating sim with art by Sayori” will doubtless be enough to convince you that Tropical Liquor is worth a shot.

For those less familiar with Sayori’s work — or those who simply prefer to think very carefully about every £7.19 purchase they consider making — today is all about taking a look at this unusual game, and why it’s worth your time.

Before we go any further, let’s get two things out of the way. Firstly, no, it’s not a HuniePop clone. And second, yes, it does have 18+ content, available via a free official patch from publisher Denpasoft. With all that out of the way, let’s go on vacation!

For the uninitiated, Sayori is a Chinese artist living in Japan who is primarily famous for her creation of and continuing work on the Nekopara series. Her art has a very distinctive style, featuring smooth lines and gradient colours, characters with an eminently appealing perpetual flush to their cheeks and slight shine to their skin, and extremely expressive faces. Also she is responsible for some of the messiest “vanilla” sex scenes out there, with her erotic artwork tending to reflect a rather unglamorous but delightfully honest view on the physical act of love without getting into particularly kinky territory. I hope you like everyone being sweaty. And drooling. And… uh… right, I was talking about Tropical Liquor, wasn’t I?

In Tropical Liquor, you play the role of a 23-year old unemployed bum (named after yourself if you so desire) who has won a 30-day vacation to the imaginatively named Tropical Island. Having been single for a full 23 out of those 23 years on this Earth, Protag-kun has decided to take along his long-suffering childhood friend Naomi just so he’s not completely alone.

Shortly after arriving, it’s not long before Protag-kun and Naomi are introduced to a veritable bevy of beauties, conveniently between them catering to a wide variety of possible tastes in women, and our hero decides that now is the time to start turning his life around and stop being such a waste of space. In typical slice-of-life tradition, the means through which he intends to accomplish this is, of course, getting himself a girlfriend. Naomi agrees to help him with this, instructing him in the fine art of making polite conversation with women, giving them presents and getting drunk with them. Not because she’s interested in him, obviously — no, of course not, absolutely not, never… well, all right, maybe a bit — but because she wants to see her friend happy and able to move on with his life.

Once you’ve played through the intro, which features a long visual novel-style sequence that introduces all the characters followed by an interactive tutorial hosted by Naomi — and is thankfully skippable after your first playthrough — you’re left to decide your own fate with the 28 days that remain after this has unfolded. During that time, you have a number of ways you can choose to spend the daytime and the evening of each day, and if you haven’t confessed to someone by the 29th day of the holiday, you fail.

During the day, you have the option of working a part-time job to earn money, resting to recover your stamina, purchasing items or “taking a walk”, with the latter being probably the most important one, since it allows you to go looking for any of the eight main cast members (including Naomi), at which point you get to ask them one question in the hope of learning something about them.

In the evening, you can again work to earn money, rest, purchase items, but you can also invite any of the eight girls out for a drink. This latter option allows you to give a gift to a girl and, once you’ve raised her affection level by giving her a gift in keeping with her interests, you can then play a “Liquor Game” with her, with the reward for successfully completing this being the opportunity to learn another piece of information about her.

The ultimate aim is that, by or before the 29th day of your holiday, you must have completely filled out at least one girl’s profile, raised her affection level to maximum and given her another appropriate gift to demonstrate her importance to you. Once you’ve done all these things, you can confess to her, have some gloriously filthy Sayori sex with her, then live happily ever after. Simple, right?

Well, mostly; filling out her profile is mostly a case of talking to the object of your affections each day and ensuring you’ve asked her all the available questions, the range of which expands as her affection level increases. And by the time you’ve got to know her this well, it’ll be pretty obvious which gift will elicit an appropriately pleased reaction. The difficult bit, however, is that “Liquor Game” I mentioned earlier.

The Liquor Game is a prerequisite to raising the girl’s affection level to its second, third and final tiers, requiring a clear on its Easy, Normal and Hard difficulty respectively, and is thus essential to completing a successful playthrough. Mechanically, it’s very simple; practically, it’s surprisingly challenging.

The Liquor Game is essentially a variant on the classic memory game Concentration. You’re shown a 3×4 grid of coloured “ice cubes” in a glass and are given a short amount of time to memorise the layout. When the timer expires (or you choose to “refill” your glass early), the cubes all turn the same colour and you must then correctly pick out the pairs. The twist is that unlike playing Concentration on the floor with a pack of cards, in the Liquor Game, ice cubes slide upwards if you remove other pieces from above them. This means that not only do you need to remember where the pairs are, you need to keep track of where various cubes move to as the layout shifts.

There are a couple of extra mechanics laid atop this basic formula. Firstly is the “Drunk Points” or “DP” mechanic, whereby both you and your “opponent” have a bar representing your alcohol tolerance. If you make an incorrect move, you lose some DP; if you clear a board, the girl loses some DP. You can also forfeit a round for a smaller DP penalty according to how many cubes were left at any time. Whoever runs out of DP first loses; if you lose, you spend the next day so hungover you’re unable to do anything at all, so try and avoid that happening. And just to keep things interesting, each of the cast members has a different tolerance to alcohol, meaning that some of them will be easier to beat than others.

On top of this, each grid features two “heart” cubes. Matching these adds one to a heart meter, though you lose a heart if you make a mistake. At the Easy difficulty, this meter goes up to a maximum of two; on Normal, it goes to three; on Hard, it goes up to four. This meter has a very important function: the higher it goes, the more clothes the girl strips off. At two, she takes off her clothes and proudly displays her swimsuit. At three, she takes off her swimsuit top. At four, she gets naked — though after the Liquor Game is over everyone is fully clothed again with no funny business — these girls aren’t that easy, you know.

The heart meter actually doesn’t matter at all if you’re just trying to win over the girl; all it affects is whether or not you unlock the girls’ various character sprites in their profile screen, so it’s more a bonus for completionists than anything else. The important thing is simply that you beat the girl three times: once on Easy, once on Normal and once on Hard. The first time you clear each difficulty level, she’ll reveal a piece of information to you that slots into her profile; any time after that is just for fun and has no practical benefit to your playthrough.

The three difficulty levels differ in subtle ways. All of them make use of the same 3×4 grid and the same coloured blocks, but Easy is much more likely to use simple to remember, symmetrical patterns than the more chaotic arrangements seen in the Hard mode. Moreover, each subsequent difficulty level gives you less time to survey the “glass” before you have to start matching, so you’d better think of a system for remembering these layouts quickly. (That or cheat by taking a screenshot, but you’d never find me condoning such disgraceful behaviour, naturally.)

You can make life a little easier for yourself by purchasing consumable items that protect or refill your DP to varying degrees, or increase the rate at which you “damage” your opponent’s gauge. Acquiring these requires you to have money, though, which means you’ll need to spend some of your time working to raise the required funds, and remember, you don’t have all the time in the world. The time limit isn’t, on the whole, a huge problem (particularly if you go for Naomi, who gives you a nice “head start” thanks to the time you spend with her in the tutorial) but it’s still worth managing your time effectively, since profile information and money earned carries over into your next playthrough.

As for the girls themselves, they’re a delightful bunch that frequently subvert your expectations and have their own relatable aspects to their personalities. Sporty girl Kei initially comes across as confident and mature, but gradually reveals herself to be both rather childish and insecure, for example, while oppai loli Ema insists on you calling her “onee-san” all the time despite her diminutive stature and apparent youth. Each of them have their own little stories to tell as you get to know them, and their endings after a successful confession are all satisfying; this isn’t a deep and meaningful visual novel that explores the human condition, by any means, but there’s clearly been some effort put into characterisation.

The writing (and localisation) itself is enjoyable, with each character having a distinctive way of speaking and addressing you, supported by some excellent quality Japanese voice acting. The dialogue itself is composed with a very pleasing, lyrical, almost poetic flow to it at times; whether this was intentional or not is hard to say, but it certainly gives the whole experience an appropriately “relaxed” feeling and is one of many reasons the game is such a pleasure to play.

Tropical Liquor isn’t trying to be a smart, artsy game with something capital-I Important to say. And that’s absolutely fine.

Sometimes all you’re in the mood for is simple, uncomplicated fun in the sun alongside some beautiful girls, a sweet-tasting cocktail in your hand. And in that regard, Tropical Liquor achieves exactly what it sets out to do. It’s the video game equivalent of a holiday fling; you may ultimately forget about it as time passes, but you’ll have a lot of fun while it lasts!


More about Tropical Liquor

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5 thoughts on “Puzzler Essentials: Tropical Liquor”

  1. I’ve only played a short while, not even finishing my first playthrough (which is with Ema) yet, but I’m not really impressed. It kinda feels overly simple and the puzzle game isn’t that good and easy to cheat in (although in my case, that’s not a bad thing. With my miserable memory, I’d never beat it in hard mode otherwise.) Although I do have to give it props for not making it another Bejewled clone.

    However, where it really counts, it shines. And with that, I mean Sayori’s art. When I saw the CG of Ema in her swimsuit I knew that it was worth the money I paid. And I really look forward to see more.

    And really, it’s fine like that. It’s a game that knows what it’s appeal is and doesn’t try to pointlessly stray from that. That’s why its gameplay is so “unambitious”, since that’s not what people are here for. That’s why the girls aren’t exactly complex, but have simple, appealing personalities that make you “waifu” them. Especially thanks to Sayori’s art, it really doesn’t have to be more than that. Hell, I’d even say that it’s better than Huniepop due to that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, exactly this. It knows what it is, and I appreciate it for that. It’s not trying to be clever or say anything profound. It’s just trying to be a collection of waifus with a fun little diversion added. And that’s absolutely fine!

      Like

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