Last month the free version of Bar Oasis [99¢ / Free] hit the App Store, and really took me by surprise by how oddly unique the entire game is. There are some elements of time management, a tilt-powered drink pouring gameplay component, and a fairly captivating story told through your encounters with the various customers of your bar. I had some minor annoyances playing the game, but thankfully the free version is fully featured enough that you will be able to tell whether or not you can deal with these before jumping in to the paid game.
The center of the game, which strangely enough is barely touched on in the iTunes description, is the first person narrative that begins with you stumbling across the Bar Oasis, seeing a job posting, and deciding to try your hand at mixing drinks. You are instantly hired by a character known as "the Boss", who shows you the ropes and explains that drinks are never poured using jiggers because pouring straight from the bottle looks so much cooler. (A point that is hard to argue.) This is where the tutorial begins, as the Boss shows you around the bar and explains how to mix drinks.
The main view of the game has you facing across from your customers, and swiping right or left moves from seat to seat. Swiping down shifts the view to the shelves behind the bar where you will find various bottles of liquor and glassware. Just like when looking at the bar, swiping right or left switches shelves, and swiping up takes you back to the bar. When the game starts, you have a bare minimum of available liquor to mix with, but as the game progresses you slowly unlock more types of booze to make even more complicated drinks.
Dragging up looks below the bar where you'll find a cash register and telephone, along with a menu and recipe book. Mixing drinks feels a lot like a time management game, as you're balancing seven different customers with indicators that show their mood which changes based on how long they're waiting. When a customer arrives, you slide them a coaster, take their order, then consult the menu to select their drink. From there, you turn around to the liquor shelves, select the glass and ingredients, then proceed to pouring.
Pouring drinks requires tilting the iPhone like a bottle, and pouring out the various liquors in to your glass. It's cool the first few times you do it, but begins to get repetitive especially since when you mess up when pouring a drink you have to go all the way back to the menu, re-select the drink, pull all the ingredients off the shelf, and start over again.
The game continues like this, with more and more customers entering the bar, each with their own associated story they reveal as you get to know them. Overall, it's a really cool experience, but you will need a lot of patience to make your way through the whole game. Everything seems to take a very long time, from switching screens from the bar, to below the bar, back to the liquor shelves, and when you're making drinks. It doesn't take a very long time until you get tired of the different screens fading in and out, and all the different popup confirmations you need to tap through to make drinks.
The pay off is in the story, which you will either get sucked in to or be annoyed by its pacing. There is a LOT of text in this game, and it's often presented in single sentences which also take a long time to get through. Personally, I read extremely quickly and often find myself annoyed with any RPG that restricts how fast you can blow through text. You can tap to make text appear quicker, but it still feels like the whole pace of the game is much slower than it should be.
Bar Oasis is a game you really should try if you've found yourself sucked in to games like Phoenix Wright [$4.99] and other story-driven RPG's. The lite version features a full tutorial, and it won't take long at all for you to determine whether or not this is a game you can get in to or if like me you're frustrated by the slow pacing. The full version features a full story mode and 100 drink recipes that you slowly come across and can access in the secondary "Make Drinks" mode where the game acts like a virtual recipe book of sorts.