If you make a purchase after following a link on our site, we may earn a small commission. Learn more.

We need more low-stakes dystopian sims like No Umbrellas Allowed

No Umbrellas Allowed screenshot
Image: Hoochoo Game Studios

As an adult with a job, I’ve often thought about what a game centred around my current occupation would look like. Bad, that’s what. Nobody wants to see life through the eyes of a disheveled pajama-wearing dad clacking away at a laptop for hours while periodically gulping down cups of coffee. Or do they? Well, according to some simulation games, they do.

Sim games are getting quite creative these days. By transforming the day-to-day grind of some Joe Schmo into an interactive world where the player needs to make nerve-wracking decisions that affect both micro and macro plot lines, devs have discovered that any old job is worth exploring.

Hoochoo Game Studios’ second-hand-shop sim No Umbrellas Allowed completely captured my attention when it released on PC back in 2021. It was a fun retro-aesthetic romp with seemingly low stakes on the surface that eventually unfolded into a much bigger social commentary about humanity, environment and, yes, how to properly assess goods with a scrutinising eye. 

No Umbrellas Allowed screenshot
Image: Hoochoo Game Studios

As a shopkeeper living in a futuristic world on the brink of total destruction in the year 2080, you’re just trying to make a living. Your priorities are to appraise, inspect, buy, sell, scavenge and occasionally do some mild protesting. At the end of the business day, you’re allowed to escape the confines of your shop to root around the different floors of your business complex and briefly engage with other humans, and hopefully find something useful in the garbage. 

If this sounds a bit light for a “dystopian” game, then you’d be right. Way less intense than some of the other titles that fall in the same genre — like Papers, Please.

When I first heard about the 2013 runaway indie hit Papers, Please, my first thoughts were, “Psh, who would wanna play a game about a guy who stamps passports all day?”. Then I actually played said title and changed my tune quick-fast. Each day in my border patrol booth was a white-knuckle ride of ethical choices and hand-wringing guilt. Not only are you responsible for keeping the riff-raff out of the Arstotzkan side of the imaginary communist country Grestin, but you also need to keep your family warm and fed while you’re on the job, or else they’ll die. 

Since I live in Poland (a former communist state) and have personally been questioned at a number of border stations, this subject matter hits painfully close to home — too close. Is the guard having a good day? Are you affable enough? Is your visa valid? Papers allowed you to vicariously live this stress through its calming low pixel art, but given the seething political overtones, an adaptation was inevitable

No Umbrellas Allowed seems like child’s play in comparison, but there are a few parallels. Both games are clearly set in unstable dystopian worlds, but No Umbrellas Allowed manages to side-step the bleakness of Papers, Please by simply getting granular in a different career. If you shifted the gaming lens to any other job in Arstotzkan — let’s say a greengrocer — it’s guaranteed to be sunnier than that of a border guard.

No Umbrellas Allowed screenshot
Image: Hoochoo Game Studios

Moreover, both games hinge on attention to detail, with Papers, Please’s missteps meaning life or death, and No Umbrellas Allowed’s simply resulting in a satisfied or disgruntled customer. Somehow, the gentle hum of commerce and low-stakes of No Umbrellas Allowed make it easier to wrap your head around the existential horror that is the Earth literally falling apart around you. Earning some coin on the side helps, too. 

With a few translation issues and clunky bargaining mechanics, No Umbrellas Allowed isn’t a perfect title, but it’s chock full of potential to be. With some polishing, it could join the ranks of other dystopian sims like Not For Broadcast and VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action, all of which underscore the importance of a job well done at the end of all things.

If you fancy trying it out for yourself, No Umbrellas Allowed is available now on PC, and it comes out on Switch on April 5th. 

Guest contributor // Joshua Furr's problematic obsessions with video games and pop culture have hounded him since the early 90s. A fierce disciple of Nintendo, his tastes bounce around from AAA games like Tears of the Kingdom to indie darlings like Hollow Knight, Stardew Valley and Cuphead. When he's not clacking away, you can find him in the kitchen, playing Mario Wonder with his kiddos or doing some light jogging.