I’ve talked before about how important it is for the H-game industry to deliver a relatively constant stream of solid games. These games don’t necessarily have to be instant classics or runaway hits, but they do have to more or less deliver your money’s worth. These games provide a foundation, so to speak, keeping people’s attention focused and the collective creativity of the industry flowing.
What I’ve yet to talk about though, is the flip side of the coin – how a steady string of mediocre, low-effort titles can hurt an industry more than any one massive flop. Just like an instant classic like Monstergirl Quest can’t carry every other H-game on its back, so too will an atrocious game be merely mocked and forgotten, perhaps only occasionally dredged out as an example of what not to do.
Somewhere between both extremes is mediocrity, and the constant flow of mediocre games is absolutely noxious. It lowers the bar so much that anybody paying attention becomes convinced that standards are low and unlikely to improve, which leads not just to loss of interest, but also to a vicious cycle where improvement is impossible because the “average” is so far down the hole that just about any title with a smidgen of effort put into it will garner approval.
Now, I initially resisted admitting Summer Fling, by AJTilley and Dharker Studio, into that rather ignoble category. It is not completely soulless – there are some points where the game does show some flashes of the developer actually giving a damn. Ultimately, however, it deserves to be there.
A quick look at the art should tell you on which dark paths we tread.
The plot of Summer Fling, such as it is, places you in the shoes of Kasumi, a faceless, personality-devoid protagonist who asks two not-very-close friends, Saeki (twintails) and Yuuki (long hair) to spend the weekend with him, unsupervised, at his parents’ lakehouse away from town. Being typical high school girls, their response to a male near-stranger inviting them over for a distant excursion is to immediately accept, to no apparent objection from their Japanese parents (the likes of whom, as I understand, are famously strict). The necessity of a pseudo-Japanese setting in an Original English Visual Novel is perhaps best left unexplored. Given so much to pick from and such freedom to stray away from the tropes established back when VNs were a Japan-only thing and we had to make do with translations, why would you pick the safe, appallingly worn-out option? Chronic unoriginality? Laziness? All the answers seem depressing, but I digress.
Our faceless protagonist takes Yuuki and Saeki to his lakehouse, whereupon he… does nothing much, really. You, as the player, interact with the girls through choices that lead to flat, rather terrible dialogue, which may or may not lead to lewd content. There are some flashes of inspiration, such as when Saeki mentions her happy memories of her father and then reveals that he stopped caring and left home to marry a cocktail waitress; but these are few and far between. Ultimately, the game makes little effort to make you feel like you’re dealing with actual characters instead of walking breast dispensers.
The dialogue is positively riveting.
‘Alright then,’ you might say. ‘This is still an eroge, right? Maybe the game’s poor prose and presentation is salvaged by decent porn?’
The answer to that is no. I mean, just look at the art. Beneath the gloss and the color, we’re talking an artist that can’t even get facial proportions right when working with a highly simplified cartoon style. There is no hope here, so why yearn for it? Not only is the terrible art scarcely arousing, it also means that the game shies away from actually showing you sex. You’ll read about what’s happening in sparse prose, but you’ll never see anything lewder than naked balloon breasts, I can only presume because the artist is altogether aware that he can’t actually draw people having sex with any degree of accuracy, never mind style.
The structure of a typical Summer Fling sex scene – a close up of the girl’s non-euclidean facial geometry, and some glued on beach-ball tits. No actual sexual interaction visible, though once all is said and done the girl might become covered in
On the technical level, at least, Summer Fling is more or less competent. It comes at 1080p resolution, which is something I would gush about in pretty much any game that featured visuals that were worth seeing. In this case, though, you want to see the terrible art in less detail, not more, so perhaps it’s more a curse than a blessing. There are no sound effects to speak of, and though the Nutaku page advertising the game mentions “professional voice-acting”, there’s none to be found in the game, nor any option to turn it on in the settings menu. I’m left to assume that was a mistake of some sort.
As for the music, it’s certainly there. That’s all I can say about it; it’s that dull. I’ve mentioned again and again that there’s a wealth of royalty-free music on the Internet, and parting with a couple hundred dollars can leave you with a fantastic orchestral score that will far outshine the boring piano plunking you’ll get on limited musical skill and even more limited budget. A fantastic example of this is the Sunrider VNs, which, outside of their original OP tracks, have a sweeping, incredibly memorable orchestral soundtrack composed entirely of royalty-free music.
This is already bad, but the music really does it no favors.
Bottom line, Summer Fling really isn’t worth the $11 it’s currently going for on Nutaku. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it at any price – there are many other good games, a lot of which we’ve reviewed, which are worth your cash. This one, though, is just too low-effort. That’s truly the most absolutely damning thing I can say. I could have some respect for it, even if it were truly, spectacularly terrible, were there some love in its construction, but Summer Fling, for the most part, is low-effort dreck. It’s not eye-searingly awful, so much as it’s bad at everything.
When playing it, one gets the feeling that the developers thought they had it in the bag and there was no need to play it anything other than absolutely safe. And hey, if you’re convinced you can sell art that looks like this for eleven dollars, I can understand the reasoning. What I don’t like is what it says about the English doujin game/VN industry. If somebody can release stuff like this and be certain people will buy it, that means that the market is absolutely bereft of the plenitude of choice and competition necessary for it to thrive. And that’s not a good spot to be in for an industry I love.