Release date: September 14, 2023
Developer: Raise empires
Editor: Merge games
Growing up, I never really believed that cleaning could be a game. That was just a painfully transparent lie that my parents (no doubt inspired by Mary Poppins) told me to get me to clean up, even though they knew it would be a mess again within five minutes. But as I got older, I learned that there is something very satisfying and rewarding about completing a simple task, and Merge Games’ newest title, New beginningaims to capitalize on this feeling through its cozy and relaxing gameplay. While it succeeds brilliantly in this regard, it could have used a little more cleaning and polishing before transferring to the Switch, and the end result is a dull experience that’s hard to recommend.
Fresh Start’s gameplay is best described as a simplified fusion of the core mechanics of Super Mario Sunshine and Luigi’s Mansion. Most of your time is spent blasting away at huge piles of dirt and trash with a steady stream of water, breaking them down into a handful of pieces that you can then vacuum up and remove completely. That’s perhaps too high a praise, as this game certainly lacks the charm and elegance of a first-party Nintendo title, but one thing it doesn’t lack is a high level of satisfaction and joy that one can feel when completing such a simple task .
There’s a lot of cleaning to do and Fresh Start is a strangely cathartic and rewarding experience. The more you clean, the more your natural beam will fill up. Once you reach a certain percentage, the map you play on completely changes, becoming more vibrant and vibrant as animals and greenery return. You get a nice little cutscene where you can see the benefits of your handiwork, and since you did a lot of the restoration work yourself, watering plants and removing piles of dirt, it’s quite a satisfying feeling to have a panoramic view of yours hard work for the last fifteen minutes. You also gain experience as you complete each task to invest in skills that increase your efficiency in the game in small ways and help you reduce the boredom when you feel like completing a certain aspect of the game is too much takes long.
You’re also given a handful of tasks to complete, which you complete naturally as you progress through the game: key items can be uncovered and placed in your inventory, often to repair specific broken items, although you’ll also need to help the animals still roam the area feeding or cleaning them. Of course, since this is a cozy game, there is a cat on each level that you can optionally give a themed hat to, and of course you can pet any animal you encounter with a disembodied hand. Unfortunately, it’s a very small interaction and the animals seem more like set pieces as they stand or sit obediently in one place, but it’s a small detail that the target audience will undoubtedly appreciate.
There’s also a surprising amount of variety in Fresh Start’s locations, transporting you to landscapes of varying disarray that feel unique despite the same gameplay loop and monotonous background music. I was pretty stunned when I started the Australia level and was greeted by several burning trees that I had to put out. Each one takes about half an hour at most to finish, and there’s more than I expected for the price.
It’s a shame that Fresh Start is let down by the visuals. Low resolution and blurry textures are present throughout, and the overall effect makes the game feel like a title from at least two console generations ago. The gloomy and ugly landscape that awaits you upon arrival is undoubtedly an intentional part of the experience, but the fact that things don’t noticeably improve as the nature progresses spoils the proceedings to some extent. This is particularly noticeable with larger objects such as trees, but also with several animals the closer you get to them.
Additionally, Fresh Start on the Switch has a painfully inconsistent frame rate, which for many people will understandably ruin the mood the game is trying to create. Unfortunately, it persists throughout the game regardless of the state of the environment, and it’s very off-putting when everything runs so slowly, even when the map is less littered with debris; In some areas, the slowdown will noticeably increase after you increase your Nature level, making the entire process feel counterproductive.
Fresh Start is a relaxing and entertaining experience, but it’s difficult to recommend due to the low resolution graphics and poor optimization on the Switch. If you can look past these things, here is a relaxing, cozy game for you that will give you a surprising amount of satisfaction and content. But at least on the Switch, this is a game buried under a pile of dirt, never shining as brightly as it could have been had more care been taken in the transfer.