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Sunday, April 21, 2024

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Potion Permit – hands-on with the final game

A bright and cartoony image, of a spiky haired young character looking at the camera, with a fluffy white dog beside them. The character holds a potion bottle and has a bag full of scrolls and other goodies. In the background is a white house shaped a bit like a bottle. It is the characters' house and laboratory.

Potion Permit doesnt seem to do anything in a hurry, and thats because its a game that expects you to be with it for a long time to come. Its a life simulation, really, dressed up as a potion making game. Youre a chemist sent to a town to brew potions, but heres a house to decorate and machines to renovate, and here are townsfolk whose friendships youll have to earn before they – and the services they offer – open up. Oh, and they have daily rhythms youll have to adapt to and work around. Try and catch someone out of hours and they wont want to know: youll have to wait until morning when theyre officially on duty again. It all takes time.

The game unfolds mechanically in a very similar way, introducing new ideas slowly. After a couple of hours play, Ive only seen a few of what I suspect will be many gameplay ideas overall, and most of them mini-games. But the core idea is resource-gathering and crafting.

When youre in the wilds, Potion Permit feels like an old-school action RPG, in that you hit enemies with a button-press and then roll around to dodge their attacks. You dont have to kill enemies – combat doesnt seem to be the point of the game – but youll be attacked and enemies drop useful ingredients, so why not?

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What a busybody you are. I forgot to feed my dog for a while and wondered why it was moping around. What a monster I am!

The other ingredients you need, you harvest, by equipping the appropriate tool – scythe, axe or hammer – and then mashing them on whatever node you need destroyed: plant, tree or stone.

But crafting works slightly differently. When you eventually unlock your cauldron, youll find a Tetris-like puzzle game that governs potion making. It allows you to use a variety of ingredients which, as long as they all fit inside a larger shape, and fill it completely up, will produce a potion. Its a nice approach. And theres an entire workshop of broken down machines to repair that presumably all have mini-games of their own.

The only other mini-game Ive actually seen is a rhythm action game in, surprisingly, the hospital area of the game. I button-matched to diagnose a patients problem, as you do. But there wasnt any music with it, which is odd for rhythm action, and the implementation seemed basic. Nevertheless, it held my attention for a few minutes.

A pixel art town in the evening. Three small character sound outside a rounded house, the windows of which are glowing an inviting yellow.
Its not much, but I call it home. I would actually very much like to live there in real-life.

A Tetris-like potion-making mini-game, where a shape is outlined in the cauldron and you have to fill it using ingredient-shapes, pulled from a backpack on the left.

The outline of a character and a small box where some arrows are floating past. Its a rhythm action mini-game, and not a very good one at that.

The Tetris-like potion-making mini-game, and the rather basic rhythm action diagnosis mini-game.

This is how Potion Permit seems to go, then: slowly. Because it assumes youre here for the long haul, it takes time to introduce things to you. It doesnt mind making you traipse back and forth a bit to harvest ingredients, nor does it mind involving you in lots of interrupting scene-setting vignettes that root you to the spot, nor does it mind you having to earn the mechanical variety it offers.

But to complain about it seems slightly beside the point, because a lot of the charm of Potion Permit is simply being in it – in its world, in its company. This is the digital equivalent of a cup of hot chocolate: all warm cuddles and sugary sweet cheeriness. Its an idyllic town from a pixelated picture book, as dinky as a toy set, and always bathed in sunshine or dappled in moonlight or flickering in warm candlelight. Things are okay here, things are calm, so why not stay a while and take a load off? Theres no hurry.

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