Mineko’s Night Market is adorable. There’s no two ways about it: its beautiful art style, bringing lovable characters – and so many cats – to life, is instantly captivating and it’s hard not to be immediately charmed by it. Unfortunately, that charm doesn’t quite carry over into every element of Mineko’s Night Market’s gameplay: stepping into the shoes of Mineko can be quite a slog as you spend a lot of your time simply farming for resources or trying to raise money.
Playing as the titular Mineko, you find yourself starting a new life with your dad on a quiet island at the base of Mount Fugu. It’s clear you’re not very happy about it: you’ve had to leave your friends and your whole life behind. But not being one to mope, you embrace island life whole-heartedly. That means crafting items to sell at the weekly Night Market – and, of course, getting embroiled in a little bit of mystery along the way.
You see, black-suited agents are stationed around the island, and nobody really knows why. There are rumblings that they’re searching for Nikko, a mythical Sun Cat who, despite featuring in children’s bedtime stories, is believed to be very much real and living on the island. Mineko’s new friend, Bobo, believes he’s seen Nikko – and so together the pair set out to find the giant, legendary cat.
But there’s not really much adventuring to be done in Mineko’s Night Market. The first time you visit a new location – which are unlocked piecemeal as you progress through the game by earning enough money to buy a piece of equipment that grants you access – you’ll need to complete a stealth puzzle that sees you release cats from boxes being protected by agents. You’ll need to sneak past their torch beams, or otherwise outwit them to get them out of your path. They’re fun and rather easy to complete – and once they’re done, the new area is yours to explore.
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Every area in Mineko’s Night Market offers one key resource, be it flowers, wood, rocks, paper or minerals, and all resources are equally important. You see, the gameplay revolves around Mineko crafting items to sell at the weekly Night Market. Whether you’re putting together beautiful bouquets of flowers or crafting origami dolls in the shape of Nikko, making cool stuff is at the heart of the game.
The problem is that you only get a limited amount of sales during the Night Market. And only certain types of items are going to sell. Cute trinkets, like flower boxes or plushies? They’ll fly off your stall. But higher-value and more functional items like planters and windows? You’re unlikely to garner much interest. And so, you’ll also be selling a lot of items to the general store throughout the week. You’ll earn less than you will at the Night Market, but since almost every objective in Mineko’s Night Market requires you to have a substantial amount of cash to hand, you’ll find yourself slogging away to raise as much money as you can.
That means that almost every in-game day spent in Mineko’s Night Market becomes a quest to gather materials. You can only visit one location at a time, so you’ll have to plan ahead and decide the type of materials you want. Card games are simple and easy to make, for example, but require both stones and paper. That means one day spent in the paper tree forest, while another is spent in the caves where you can gather stones. You’ll then need to spend some time crafting – a straightforward task that asks you to complete a small minigame for each item – before heading to the minimart to sell your wares.
And… for a substantial amount of your time with Mineko’s Night Market, that’s all you’ll be doing. It becomes repetitive very quickly, and while its world remains charming, we can’t help but wish we could enjoy it in a more engaging way. Yes, unlocking a new location is exciting, but the amount of farming required to get there – particularly in the second half of the game – takes away some of the shine.
Even the titular Night Market itself isn’t as much of an event as it should be. Once you’ve discovered that some items simply won’t sell there, it becomes much more lucrative and time-efficient to focus your efforts on crafting functional items that you can sell every day at the store. Still, the Night Market is a fun event that provides an opportunity for you to purchase some rare items as well as take part in some sort of weekly challenge. There’s a cat race, for example, a play to perform in and a scavenger hunt, to name just a few. Coming out on top of any of these challenges will bag you a trophy that’ll be displayed in your room.
For the rest of the week, when you’re not crafting items in a bid to raise more money, you’ll be crafting items to gift to your neighbours and local villagers. As often is the case in these types of games, Mineko’s Night Market positions you as the local skivvy, and everyone will want something from you. Whether they need new windows for their house or simply want a pillow adorned with their favourite boyband, it somehow falls to you to deliver it for them. They’re all optional, but it does pay to complete as many as you can: you’ll be rewarded with new crafting recipes for each gift you deliver.
We’d be lying if we said we haven’t enjoyed our time with Mineko’s Night Market. We have: its world and its characters are just wonderful, and we’ve loved being part of it. But we just wish the game’s economy was a little more balanced so we didn’t have to spend so much time repeatedly gathering materials and completing menial tasks as we craft endless trinkets. Billed as a “narrative-driven adventure”, it feels lacking in both narrative and adventure. Instead, we got what feels more like a thinly-veiled crafting/management simulator game. There’s still a lot to like here, but we certainly expected more.