Ah, style. While some people have a certain je ne sais quoi that lets them put together fantastic outfits with ease, others, well… don't. If we're honest, our feet are firmly in the latter camp, what with our preference for novelty print dresses, brightly-coloured knitwear and traditional pyjama sets - basically, a strawberry blonde version of New Girl's Jess Day (or so we've been told). However, as Everybody Plays' woman in chief, it fell to us to review Nintendo's latest fashion-forward hand-held game, New Style Boutique 3: Styling Star - hoping that we'll learn something about style along the way. We're not sure we picked up much in the way of fashion tips - nor did it do much to refine our style into something more grown up - but we did have a blast channelling our inner fashionista, however dubious she is. Because life's too short to not rock a dress emblazoned with hedgehogs and polka dots.
New Style Boutique 3 sees its female protagonist (that's you!) moving to the town where her Uncle Tim lives, in order to help out with the running of his quirky little boutique, 'Timmorrow'. But no sooner have you arrived than he decides he's off on a world tour, leaving you in charge of running the place in his absence - and hopefully injecting some of your fashion sense into the business in the process, seeing as Tim's is somewhat lacking. Compared to the previous New Style Boutique, with its strange living-in-an-alternate-dollshouse-dimension story, Styling Star comparatively almost seems "normal" (gasp!), but its colourful cast of characters, and surprisingly coherent story more than makes up for the loss in wackiness.
During your long days toiling away in your shop, you'll come across a number of local folk who are all in dire need of your fashion forward help, along with a few "regulars" who form the main part of the story. These are a group of hopeful singers who've recently been signed to the local talent agency, all of which will need a hand in putting together outfits for all manner of events - there's a clumsy small town farm girl, a rich heiress working in secret and a bread-loving 'Mewtube' vlogger - and they all need your help on the rise to stardom, as they try to choose the right outfits for album launches, music videos, and everything else their career entails.
Even so, the musicians are only a tiny percentage of characters you'll end up helping out during your time with Styling Star. Every in-game day (which last about five minutes or so, eschewing the real-time Animal Crossing-style day-in-game-is-a-day-in-real-life set up of the previous instalment), you'll have a dozen or so folks stop by with various fashion conundrums. Perhaps they want a rock-themed bag to replace one they lost, an orange shirt to lift their mood, or an entire feminine outfit of office-appropriate attire, with it falling to you to listen to their stories and requests, pick out the key information, and scroll through your stock room to find something that matches and stays within their budget.
Every item of clothing in the game belongs to a specific fashion label that epitomises a certain style - say, Marzipan Sky for Girly-themed clothes with liberal bows, pastels and floral patterns, or the bright colours and fun details of the Lively style extroadinaires, April Bonbon. By matching the general theme of the customer's order with their representative brand, you're pretty much guaranteed success - and handy search functions that let you limit things by theme, colour and item of clothing to name but a few, make finding the perfect piece a breeze (especially when you consider your shop has space to stock hundreds of different items).
Of course, your shop doesn't stock itself, and part of your job as manager is to make sure you always have a myriad of styles and potential pieces to draw from when trying to help your customers. Fortunately, despite the dearth of pretty much any other shop in town, there is a huge Exhibition Hall over the road from your little boutique, which is open 24/7, 365 days a year, ready and waiting for any fashion emergencies you might encounter. With a department for each of the game's made up brands stocking pretty much everything you could possibly want, picking and choosing the looks you want to include in your boutique's bespoke range is a game in and of itself. Add in the fact that you've usually got to look for a couple of specific pieces for characters whose requests you haven't been able to fulfil, and you'll likely find yourself running up quite a bill as you pad out your range with way too many poofy baby doll dresses, stripey socks of every colour and beanie hats with moustaches. Or at least, that's what we tend to do…
This light management aspect - where you need to pick and choose the clothes you think you'll sell, and keep up a fairly extensive inventory elevates Styling Star from a simple dress up game to something a bit more. With such a diverse range of customers coming in, looking for everything from bold animal print, to frilly flouncy frocks, to bright and bubbly bobble hats, you can't really afford to focus too much on one key style (although that hasn't stopped us buying pretty much everything Marzipan Sky and April BonBon have), and you'll need to carry a few staples from each big brand if you want to keep your customers coming back. That being said, your clientele are endlessly forgiving, and even if your recommended items bomb spectacularly, they'll come back once, twice, or three times to give you another go at picking out the perfect rock skirt. Even if you're out of the item in question, you can tell them you'll restock it for them, and they'll wait patiently until you return with their cherry-picked item in hand.
What surprised us the most about Styling Star though, was its emphasis on story. Even the generic characters who wander into your boutique after a red shirt, a pair of yellow socks or a bold bag have their own little personalities and quirks, right down to the little quips on their store cards that let you know of their love of free bread at restaurants, the fact they have way too much stationary and, the odd curveball about how they do "surprisingly good impressions of road signs", whatever that entails. The main girlies - the rising stars you'll be helping style their way to the top - are also similarly entertaining, from Rosie's ability to trip over while standing still, to heiress' Yolanda's ever more desperate antics to shake off her long-suffering bodyguard.
What's nice too is that, depending on how you style the girls, you can actually have a bit of an influence how their careers play out. For example, one of your firsts tasks sees you dressing up Rosie for her first single's photoshoot. You can either go girly or rock, and depending on which one you choose, the song she releases will change to match. Other characters have their moments too, from rocker girl Jo whose dreams of setting up a club require your help to win over her stuffy business man brother, to an indecisive hair stylist looking to set up a salon, and a baker with a penchant for terrible jokes.
While we personally prefer Styling Star, with its focus on story and characters, those who appreciated last year's Fashion Forward's more bustling, busy city may find the latest entry a bit lacking. There's less in the way of little side distractions (like the last game's customisable dolls house and collectable miniature furniture), nor are there any 'colours' to snap photos of in town. In fact, the town itself is much less explorable, with its different destinations only really relevant to key story scenes. Overall, Styling Star is a much more streamlined affair, at least partially because the much shorter days mean you have less free time to fill with random outings and distractions, instead refocusing on running your boutique and helping the girls out in their dreams of stardom.
Of course, New Style Boutique 3: Styling Star won't be everyone's cup of tea - after all, what is essentially a dressing up game, may be just a girly, twee step too far for some. However, for those with even a passing interest in clothes, its quirky writing, married with its addictive light shop management and scope for creativity make for a surprisingly solid game, and one that's well worth a look. While some may lament a lack of extra activities outside of your day to day styling, we think it makes for a nicer, more focussed entry, and the return to shorter days makes your time feel more full, with less down time between customers. All in all, Styling Star is a great excuse to indulge your inner girly girl this Christmas, no matter how questionable your real-life fashion sense may be.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS