Review: Style Savvy: Trendsetters (3DS)

They see me stylin', they hatin'

What's the hottest new fashion trend this fall season? Nintendo's hoping it won't be cobalt leg-warmers or autumn florals, but rather their newly released 3DS fashion sim, Style Savvy: Trendsetters. With engaging collection and customization-based gameplay and classy production values, they've certainly got a good shot; Style Savvy is a fun and expansive game that will delight budding fashionistas - and maybe even tempt some style skeptics into the bargain.

Putting players in the role of a new hire at a small boutique, Style Savvy has more of a story than you might expect. It's comfortingly quotidian rather than fantastical, and the running theme of fashion as urban renewal is a perfect fit for the style and the gameplay: as your shop grows in size and prestige, so does the town around you, with new characters arriving and new shops and areas opening up as you play.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of Style Savvy: Trendsetters is the almost bewildering amount of things you can do in your little town. In any given day, you could spend your time working at your boutique, tending to customers and enjoying the dialogue while coordinating outfits and making sales. Or you could visit the Buyer's Centre and stock up on new clothes, enter runway contests, dress up mannequins and coordinate your window display. There's also the chance to redecorate the boutique (or your apartment), meet new people and make contacts downtown, get your 'flower fortune' read at the park, enjoy a refreshing tea at the café, tweak your online storefront or just try on new outfits, hairstyles, and makeup.

Even with all these options, you'll likely spend much of your time on the main focus of the game: selecting outfits for customers who show up at the boutique. Along with a quirky bio ("She's a vegetarian who hates vegetables", "Has a unicorn collection that no one's ever seen"), each customer will have a specific request and a maximum spending limit. Working with your stock and within their taste and budget, you'll pick anything from a pair of shoes to a full outfit to show them and, hopefully, make the sale. Satisfied customers will return for more, and if you've impressed someone with a particularly bold recommendation they might end up buying more than they came in for.

There's a huge variety in clothing styles, split across dozens of fictitious brands that each specialize in a particular 'taste', like pop, edgy, girly, boho-chic, retro, and many more - whatever your personal style, you'll find something representative here. You acquire your stock from the Buyer's Centre, where available items are constantly changing and new brands pop up as you progress through the game. Eventually, you'll also be able to customize your store's interior design, window display, and even music, all of which will affect the kinds of customers who will walk into the shop.

It's difficult to explain why exactly this all ends up being so much fun, but it really is. Between the ever-advancing story, the addictive cycle of buying stock, putting together outfits and making sales, and the incredible variety of smaller diversions, Style Savvy knows how to keep you entertained. It's the kind of game you'll pick up to play for 10 minutes and find yourself still enjoying an hour later.

Progress is made by filling up a Happiness meter, which both resembles and works like the Rhythmia crystal in Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy. Pleasing customers or doing something nice for yourself will help fill your meter, and every night the accumulated happiness advances the phase of the moon; each time the moon becomes full, more of the game opens up. It's a nice system that lets you take a freeform approach to furthering the linear story, but it's definitely on the slow side: features like StreetPass, the online Fashion Plaza, boutique management and fashion shows only appear after several hours of play.

In truth, this measured approach helps to keep the huge amount of gameplay possibilities from feeling overwhelming, and makes sure there's always something to look forward to. That said, if you're particularly interested in a specific feature like online shops or runway contests, know that you'll have to pay your dues as a fashion newbie before you can dive in to everything the game has to offer.

One criticism with the gameplay is that the customer requests tend to be incredibly straightforward. If a customer comes in asking for an edgy base-layer, a surefire way to please is simply to filter your inventory for base-layers with an 'edgy' taste and pick any of the resulting options; it's almost too easy. Sure, this doesn't actually stop you from being creative or following your fashion instincts, but it definitely removes some of the incentive to experiment. Sometimes customers will ask for an outfit that "fits their style" or "matches their boots", without using one of the magic adjectives searchable in the inventory. These challenges are definitely more exciting, but they're the exception rather than the rule.

Another small complaint is that the options for actually viewing your fashion masterpieces are a bit limited. Once you've successfully dressed a customer you can spin them around and choose between two zoom levels, but there's no way to change poses or see an animation. They're frozen in sublime satisfaction with your selection, which is flattering but not really conducive to admiring your handiwork.

In terms of audience, Style Savvy: Trendsetters leans distinctly towards the feminine. The game does let you work with male fashion as well, but only after several hours of play. It's also worth noting that there's no Professor Oak-style "Are you a boy or a girl?" choice here - your character is automatically female. While it worked out with this reviewer's relatively androgynous moniker, it's something to bear in mind for the name input screen if you happen to be a male player more on the "Bruce" or "Timothy" side of the spectrum.

That's certainly not to say that the game can't be enjoyed by gamers of all stripes, however. The underlying gameplay elements of customization, resource management, and life simulation are addictive and thoroughly enjoyable. Customizing your boutique and apartment, managing stock and unlocking new clothing styles - and going to the café for no reason other than to savour a charmingly animated cuppa - all call to mind the relaxing fun of Animal Crossing. The customization isn't as deep as in Nintendo's sylvan sandbox classic - here it's more about choosing and tweaking options than creating from the ground up - but it's fun and satisfying in the same way.

Fitting for a game so focused on fashion, Style Savvy: Trendsetters' presentation is excellent. The graphics are crisp and colourful, with an elegant, minimalist approach that lets the styles take centre stage. The character models look good and the animations add a lot of personality, but they unfortunately repeat quite often. Michaela's gung-ho, winking thumbs-up is thoroughly charming on her, for example, but becomes less so by the time you've seen the same move performed by your seventh or eighth satisfied customer in a row. That's really our only complaint here though; the interface is slick and refined, the 3D effect works wonderfully, and cutscenes draw inspiration from a variety of fashion materials, like felt and craft paper, to craft a unique look that fits the game perfectly.

The music is similarly fantastic, with upbeat, breezy bossa nova and light jazz mixed with easy, catchy synth melodies that wouldn't seem out of place in Wii Fit. It's elevator music in a good way; the kind that might tempt you to ride a few floors past your destination in order to keep listening. There's no voice acting, but the written dialogue is surprisingly well done. It's clever and at times self-referential, such as when the character who relays your avatar's appearance (letting you choose it in the process) to a fellow fashionista is called out for her ridiculously detailed description, "right down to the eyebrow shape!"

Bearing the Nintendo Network logo proudly, Style Savvy has an excellent online component in the Fashion Plaza, where you can create and curate your own online shop. You'll get a personalized shop code, pick a wallpaper and choose three outfits to upload that other players can buy for themselves (without depleting your offline stock). Browsing and purchasing outfits uploaded by other players is good fun and works nicely, and you can view the profile cards of the owners whose shops you visit as well. There are also local multiplayer collaborative fashion shows for up to four players where you work together to design outfits to fit a theme, walk the catwalk to show them off, and are judged collectively on how you did. Unfortunately, each stylist will need their own copy of the game for this mode, as there's no Download Play.

Along with the online shop and local multiplayer options, Style Savvy: Trendsetters makes good use of the 3DS' unique features. An AR Photo Shoot mode uses the '?' card included with 3DS systems and allows players to take pictures of characters from the game in real-world environments. StreetPass integration allows savvy 3DS users to swap profile cards, and players you've tagged will appear in your shop as customers. These profile cards also integrate with the Fashion Plaza, allowing for internet-enabled StreetPass followups. You can specify what kind of outfit you'd like to receive on your profile card, and players you've StreetPassed will have the option to upload a bespoke ensemble for you that you can then download from the Fashion Plaza. It's an intriguing idea, and a concept that we hope makes its way to more 3DS games in future. SpotPass functionality for downloading items is also included, but we were unable to test it for this review.

Another nice feature is that the game allows you to take photos at almost any time - including during dialogue scenes - with a quick tap of the R button. These photos can be exported to the SD card for sharing, and can also rather helpfully serve as a 'bookmark' of sorts for particularly memorable outfit: a "Copy from Photo" function in the outfit selection menu lets you instantly match any ensemble you've got photographic evidence of.

Conclusion

Style Savvy: Trendsetters is a beautiful game which offers an incredible variety of content, boasts addictive gameplay, and makes excellent use of the 3DS' features. Like its up-and-coming fashionista protagonist, Style Savvy is confident, fun and charming. If fashion games are your style, you'll be absolutely thrilled with everything on offer here, and even if it's not the sort of game you'd normally consider picking up, it's well worth a second look.