VA-11 HALL-A (Switch, Vita, PC)

In a dystopian future where implanted nanobots and fearful law enforcement run everyone’s lives, people seek ways to escape.  Some devote themselves to their work, others just give up, and some just find answers at the bottom of a glass.  And that’s where you come in.  In this game you are a bartender at a dive with a location number called VA-11 HALL-A.  Since that’s a mouthful and sounds like the room number of your college biology class, everyone just calls it Valhalla.  Mix and serve drinks in this unique narrative adventure game.  It’s available for Switch, Vita, and PC, but reviewed on Switch here.

In the game you play as Jill, a bartender.  You start off the game in your apartment and can do things like check your cell phone for news articles to enhance the story, shop for items for your apartment, and save and load your game.  The only time you can save is when you are at your apartment and on breaks, but we’ll get to that in a bit.  When you are ready, you can go off to work for the day, and this is where the meat of the game begins.

Once you get to work, you can pick songs to play on the jukebox and then customers will arrive.  You’ll listen to their stories and they’ll order a drink.  Sometimes they’re specific in what they want, other times you must read what they want by clues in the text.  After that, a recipe book will open and you can search for drink recipes by name, category, flavor, and more.

On the right side of the screen is where you’ll mix drinks.  Follow the directions in the recipes and add ingredients and flavors as needed.  You can even double an order if they want a big drink.  Depending on the situation, you may want to add extra alcohol or none at all.  You can also choose to age the ingredients or put them on the rocks.  Some drinks are mixed, while others are blended.  The Switch controllers will rumble more when drinks are blended, so that’s a nice use of the rumble feature.  Once you’ve made a successful drink, you can serve it to the customer.  Depending on how well you make it, and if you put extra alcohol, their reactions may be different.  The game has multiple endings with different outcomes depending on how you do, so you may want to have extra save files just in case.  Just make sure you have enough money to pay the rent on your apartment.

This game is really interesting and creative, but it has a few problems, too.  You have to wade through a LOT of text, so if you don’t like a lot of reading, you may want to steer clear of this one.  Also, you can only save during breaks and when you are at home, which is annoying since other text heavy games like Phoenix Wright let you save mid-sentence.  But if you want to play a game that’s way out there, this is a good pick if you can get past those problems.  I also like the late 80’s/early 90’s style PC graphics.  Kind of reminds me of Wing Commander in a way.

Kid Factor:

VA-11 HALL-A is rated M for Mature with ESRB descriptors of Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Use of Alcohol and Tobacco.  Even though it’s fictional, you do serve alcohol, and the rest of the descriptors are in the text only, although it does get pretty explicit.  Simply stated, if you’re too young to go a bar, you’re too young for this game.

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