One of the nicer things about Nintendo is how they're willing to try out new things - while other games companies are stuck in a Space Marine Shooter-shaped rut, they're churning out delightfully woolly platformers, claytastic rolly-polly touch screen games and charming multiplayer dungeon crawlers. Never afraid of striking out and going for a less catered to market, Nintendo's latest foray into the so-called Blue Ocean is a three-quel to a game that enjoyed moderate success on the DS back in 2009 - the somewhat clumsily named Nintendo Presents New Style Boutique 2: Fashion Forward, a charming sim of sorts which sees the player running a local clothes store, and helping out folks with their fashion-related dilemmas.
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The game itself opens with a letter from your grandma, who's left you a key to "the little door you've always wanted to open" - a teeny tiny dollshouse-like door on a desk. Unlocking the door unleashes a pocket-sized girl called Sophie, whose own grandmother used to hang out with yours in the fashion-forward Beaumonde City, the miniature world on the other side of the door. One rather in depth character customisation later, and you step over the threshold yourself, into the Beaumonde of today, which has sadly lost it's passion for fashion over the years - and this dwindling interest in clothes of all shapes and sizes means Sophie's own clothing boutique is struggling too. And so it falls to you to help revitalise her business - and bring back Beaumonde's sense of style in the process.
As you can probably imagine, the vast majority of your time will be spent running your little clothes store, helping your exclusively female customers with their fashion problems. Each will have some kind of idea of the sort of thing they're looking for, and a budget they're willing to spend, and it's up to you to hook them up with an item that meets their expectations from the stock you have. From a simple pair of socks to a white casual dress to a stripy shirt, you'll be picking out everything from a single specific item to a whole new outfit in the hope of making another sale - although you needn't worry if your initial pick isn't quite to their taste either, as you'll generally have three attempts to get it right. But there's more to running a successful fashion boutique than just building a rapport with your customers, and you'll find you need to wear several hats (stylish ones of course) if you want to become the number one clothing destination in town.
Of course, a shop is useless without anything for people to buy, and outside of dealing with customers, you'll find yourself having fairly regular trips over to the Exhibition Hall. Essentially a more clothing-orientated take on Makro, it's a huge multi-floor warehouse with stands for each of New Style Boutique's made up brands, where you can stock up on all the essentials. And with more than 19,000 different pieces of clothing on offer, which run the gamut from cute and girly to loud and flashy to gothy and sporty, there's literally thousands of choices on offer, and picking and choosing which you want to stock will directly influence the type of clientele your little boutique attracts. For girly girls, the bows, pastels and ribbons of Marzipan Sky will likely appeal, while slightly more out there personalities will appreciate the bright colours, child-like logos and zany patterns of April Bon-Bon instead - and to be honest, that was pretty much everything we stocked, really. But for those of you who don't like girly dresses, duck wellies and hats with cat ears on, there's plenty of classier, and more grown up, looks on offer too.
While the game hasn't specifically said so, we can only assume that it does pick and choose the folks it sends to your shop too, because we've yet to come across someone who we couldn't recommend anything suitable for. As the initial broad mix of fashions we'd automatically started the game with started to dwindle, replaced by the stock we'd picked out ourselves (90% of which was bright, cute and colourful), we did notice more of a gradual shift to girly girls browsing our shop shelves. And speaking of your shop shelves, you can also customise your boutique's interior, signs, window displays, music and more, letting you tailor your store to your target market even more precisely. But whoever you happen to attract, and whatever they ask for, you'll find that, nine times out of ten, you simply have to match the style they want to the representative brand - such as Marzipan Sky for girly, April BonBon for lively and Corale for feminine. And while it's nice to be able to please everyone, and you do have a bit of creative freedom in the exact pieces you pick out, the formulaic way of pleasing customers can feel a bit repetitive and samey after a while, especially if your limited shop space means you can only stock a decent selection from a handful of brands.
After putting in a good few hours at your fashion boutique, you'll unlock the ability to help out at both the hairstylist and beautician's in town, styling clients' hair and doing their make up for them. Both tend to be a bit more complex and vague than picking out clothes, and offer more of a challenge, such as when someone comes in and asks you for a 'straight, formal, blue hairstyle' or wants you to match their make-up to a photo of someone they admire. Despite having a picture to copy from, we found the make-up to be the most hit and miss, as we were always tripping over eyeliner colours - but then again, we haven't worn make-up since our embarrassing teen goth years, so we're hardly an expert on it. Before long, you'll also unlock fashion shows at the Beaumonde Arena too, where you'll need to pick out outfits and such to go with the chosen theme, such as 'adorably cute' - and while it's not that far removed from helping folks out in your store, the larger budgets give you the opportunity to go a bit crazier with your outfits.
When you fancy taking a break from fashion, hair and make-up for a while, you can always kick back and relax at the rather unusual Caprice Chalet, too. With a decoratable dollshouse in the attic, here you can play around with various interior designs to your heart's content, using a variety of collectable 'minatures' given to you by the folks of Beaumonde City - but there's something special about the Chalet. For some unknown reason, the rooms you create in the upstairs dollshouse become real, life-size rooms in the downstairs of the Chalet, where they can attract the attention of some of the city's more fashionable folks. While you may begin with a simple bedroom, the furniture you often receive from grateful customers will expand your options ten fold, and you'll soon be able to create everything from cafes and restaurants to shops and stores, some of which you'll be able to rent out to interested parties for a little extra income.
For the fashion conscious casual player, there's a lot to like about New Style Boutique 2 - the core selling and stocking of running your own shop is surprisingly addictive, while the extra side games add a bit more variety and flair to the whole package. Life in Beaumonde City may be a slow-paced and laid-back affair that won't be for everyone - it's not a deep or complex management sim by any means - but therein lies its charm.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS