Time management games are my guilty pleasure, I’ve loved playing them ever since I first played Diner Dash many, many years ago on my mother’s iPad. However, I tend not to play too many PC games these days and there isn’t a lot of titles within this genre on consoles, or at least that’s what I thought. Today I’m taking a look at Welcome to Primrose Lake on the Nintendo Switch, a title which I’ve played pretty much every night since I redeemed the code.
Welcome to Primrose Lake is the second game from SQRT3 (Square Root of Tree) to come to the Nintendo Switch courtesy of publisher Qubic Games, although I’m hoping that these are the first two of many as they have been perfectly adapted for the hybrid console. Described as a combination of Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure, the mysterious story combined with addictive gameplay practically took hold of my spare time over the last week, making me intrigued as to what’ll happen next and how the story will end.
So, what was it about this casual time management game which made me put much bigger games to one side? Let’s find out…
Welcome to Primrose Lake begins with bride-to-be Jenny Carlyle getting cold feet and opting to hitch a ride from outside of the church instead of walking down the aisle. She has no specific destination in mind, she just wants to get away from here as fast as possible before anyone notices. Whilst talking to her new chauffeur, she discovers a rather strange coincidence, the woman who picked her up is named Jessie Carlyle – yet neither of the women has ever seen or heard anything about the other which would indicate that they are related.
Although, when looking at the sprites of both characters, you’d never know which is which – I got confused many times whilst playing as they’re so alike!
Excited to find out more about Jessie and her life in the quaint village of Primrose Lake, Jenny decides to stay with her for a while and help her out in the cafe, whilst also spending time with the locals. However, just as Jessie stumbled upon Jenny, she also comes across information regarding the Carlyle bloodline and secrets the family has kept hidden for many years. So, whilst one of the J’s is running the store and helping out around town, the other is off playing ‘Nancy Drew’ as they investigate various events.
Welcome to Primrose Lake is a time management game, a game in which you have to efficiently and accurately serve customers who require a number of items or services from you. The game itself is spread over a number of locations, each one having you take the role of a different person within the town, yet Jenny or Jessie will usually be there to offer support or an additional service. Initially, your tasks will be simple – Make someone a coffee, give them a doughnut, or take their money – but soon it’ll get more hectic as the number of items on offer increases with each new stage and the customers start ordering combinations.
The various locations don’t only have new people to control, they also have new items to provide such as renting out boats at the dock, sizing up people in the tailors, and checking out books in the library. However, the concept is the same, a person walks into the building, they request something from you, you provide it by picking up the item or combining multiple items to create a bundle, then you give them to the person and collect your cash. Based on how fast you serve the customers and how efficient you are (picking up an entire order and delivering it in full instead of partially), you’ll get a monetary reward which equates to the ‘points’ required for up to three diamonds.
On top of doing your duties, there’s also a racoon in each level which you must spot and slap for a bonus diamond as well as a unique challenge for each location, which also gives you an extra diamond. These challenges may revolve around the scene – such as click on all the rubbish to clean it up or having you perform a service a set amount of times – or be more general like making sure no customer storms off. There are also a bunch of simplistic puzzles for you to complete which pop up throughout the story – it’s nothing too taxing but it does break up the gameplay nicely, offering a new mini-game to play.
In total there are sixty levels, each with a maximum of five crystals to earn, but what are they for…
The underlying goal of the game is to uncover your family tree and discover who the Carlyles are and what secrets the town is hiding in regards to their history. As such, Jenny places the blanked out family tree on a literal tree down in the empty park. As you progress through the story, the family tree will get populated, letting you see how everyone relates to each other. Also, you can spend your hard-earned diamonds on various items within the park, ultimately filling the empty space with items so that the townsfolk can come and relax whilst you look at your lineage.
I’m not sure if the controls were the developer’s or the publisher’s idea but I both loved and disliked them in Welcome to Primrose Lake. Let’s take a look at both ways you can play the game, starting with the Joy-Cons…
Portable or Docked: The team has created a rather unique way of allowing you to use the controllers to operate the game. Rather than emulating a mouse, which is what I thought it would do, the game has you flick between the various ‘hubs’ in the level. So, if you’re in the coffee shop then you’ll move between the counter, drinks machine, pastries, and the oven. Once one of these is highlighted, a number of options will appear which relate to the various face-buttons. You need to push the one which corresponds to what you want – this method is efficient but it’s very easy to mess up, especially in the later levels.
Portable mode: By far the best way to play Welcome to Primrose Lake is in portable mode as the game fully supports the touchscreen – making it pretty much identical to the iOS version. Playing the game like this reminded me of Diner Dash all those years ago, the game was simply made for either precise mouse or touch controls. The confusion and fiddliness of using the controller were out of the window as soon as I realised it was 100% touchable, quick manipulation of the scene, combining orders, lining up a perfect combo, and slapping that pesky racoon was so much easier and natural – this is the way to play the game!
First up, Welcome to Primrose Lake has something which I wished more Switch games would have, in-game achievements. Unlocking all of them doesn’t appear to actually unlock anything extra, which is a shame due to the pointlessness of trophies on the Switch, but simply having them there pushed me to replay levels and ensure I got five stars in each one. Also, once you’ve seen a cutscene you can watch them again via the gallery, meaning if you missed something then you can get a recap.
This may be quite a surprise for fans of the genre but Welcome to Primrose Lake actually has a local cooperative multiplayer mode. I’ve not personally played this mode for a long time, due to living on my own, but I dabbled with it to see how you would play it. By using two controllers (or simply grabbing a Joy-Con and giving the other to your friend), you’re both placed within the game as you control both Jessie and Jenny using the ‘Portable or Docked‘ control scheme I mentioned above. This lets you buddy up with a friend or family member as you work together to keep the customers happy.
Is the game complete?
Fans of these types of games will know that it’s quite rare for a single game to be the only release within that particular story. My colleague has previously reviewed both Amber’s Airline and Hotel Ever After, both of which were their own self-contained stories yet simply the first game in a series. As such, Welcome to Primrose Lake follows suit by ending with the possibility of having more games created within this new franchise. But, just like all the other games out there in the genre, just because this is possibly only part one doesn’t mean the story has been cut or ends abruptly, it has its own story which comes to an end, it’s just not got a definitive ending…
As expected, the game runs perfectly on my launch-day Nintendo Switch in both portable and docked mode (although I highly recommend portable with the touch controls). Despite how hectic some of the later levels get (seriously, customers can get quite pushy – you’d think they were shopping for toilet paper or something), I always felt in control and on top of things – if I messed up an order or made a customer unhappy, it was down to my own slow reactions.
As the game is on the Switch, the in-game trophies don’t really matter as they don’t sync with a server or provide any bonuses for obtaining them. However, I still felt inclined to try and unlock as many of them as I can as I was having so much fun playing the game. But, the later levels are a little tricky as the only way to obtain all three stars/diamonds is to ensure you serve everyone with nobody losing patience and dropping their score, chain orders together for a bonus, complete the level challenge, and slap the racoon.
So, you have to do a lot of things at the same time whilst keeping an eye out for the pesky creature and ensuring you keep on top of things – it gets stressful but never loses it’s fun.
This brings me to the difficulty – There is actually an Easy, Normal and Hard toggle, which can be set at any time, so you can drop it if you want to obtain all the stars without throwing your Switch at someone or getting frustrated in certain levels. However, depending on the difficulty you pick, the colour of the star you earn will change – for me this made me return to Normal and obtain it again as I wanted them all the same colour! But, for the casual gamer who wants to unlock everything without struggling on levels they find too precise, the option is there.
Finally, just a brief note on the visuals and sound – they’ll be very familiar to fans of the genre as they have the same cartoony and whimsical aesthetic as a lot of other games in this format. Don’t take that remark as a negative, I thought he character avatars looked great, the locations were very varied, and the in-game assets were cute, but in terms of the overall look, it looks like you’d expect from a time-management game. The music is very fitting and doesn’t irritate or annoy you whilst you play through the stages, it helps relax you and keeps you focused.
Welcome to Primrose Lake is a great first outing for the franchise on the Switch and I can’t wait to see more from the Carlyle girls. Time-management games have their audience, they’re for people who play casually, maybe playing one or two stages at a time, who like a good story which gets more interesting as you progress through the many (sixty) levels. As such, this game is perfect for those types of people as it kept myself entertained throughout and had me hooked right until the end. If you have a choice of how to play the game, I’d recommend in portable mode with the touchscreen, but using the Joy-Cons will give you practice before you jump into the co-op mode with your friends and family – you’ll get hours of enjoyment out of this game.
If you like the look of Welcome to Primrose Lake, or you’re simply looking for more games in this format on your Switch, the developer and publisher have also released Barbarous: Tavern of Emyr. This game is technically the developer’s second title (releasing on Steam after Primrose Lake), yet it actually came out on the Switch before Primrose Lake was also ported over. I don’t actually own this title but it’s on sale for 50% off until the 22nd March 2020, so I’m going to pick it up later on today.
Welcome to Primrose Lake£6.99
- - Interesting story with lots of plot points and mysteries
- - Solid time-management gameplay which progressively becomes more intense as you move through the story
- - Multiple control methods including full touchscreen operation
- - Visually all the environments and characters look unique and cute
- - Has 60 levels and 120 cutscenes, as well as a park to rebuild and trophies to obtain. The overall experience will give you easily over 20 hours of entertainment
- - The Joy-Con controls can be fiddly, but they are rather intuitive
- - The in-game trophies are great as they prolong gameplay, but there's no reward or benefit in going out of your way to unlock them all