If there's one thing that's true in style, it's that what's old is new again. That's as true in fashion games as it is on the runway, and now, after two excellent turns on the 3DS in Style Savvy: Trendsetters and Fashion Forward, Nintendo's going back to basics by bringing the DS original Style Savvy to the Wii U's Virtual Console. Style Savvy's maiden voyage lacks a bit of the refinement and many of the features of its sequels, but the quirky charm and addictive gameplay base is still there, and the book-oriented presentation is a perfect fit for the Wii U's GamePad; if you're a fashion fan, this is a refreshing breeze of retro cool.
Style Savvy drops you into the boots — or flats, sandals, stilettos, or pumps — of an up-and-coming fashionista in a fashion-friendly town. After customizing your player character (with a broad range of face shapes and features, hairstyles, and skin tones), you'll fill out an application to work in the Strata boutique run by Grace, a famous local stylist, along with her assistant Renée, who's significantly more Devil Wears Prada than the hyper-helpful assistants of Trendsetters or Fashion Forward. Eventually you'll leave the nest and flit off to set up your own boutique, but whether you're still working retail in Strata or managing your own store, the basic goal remains the same: buy and sell with style.
Style Savvy's gameplay loop — once described as 'like a fighting game!' in an entertaining Iwata Asks — is an engaging encapsulation of this tenet. As you work in the shop, customers will come in with background stories and a specific fashion request — they might need a fancy dress for a party they've been invited to, a plaid skirt, a poppy cardigan to keep warm, or an entire outfit to go with a new hat. Working within their personalized budget constraints, you'll look through the stock on hand, pick out some recommendations and present them to your shopper to try on. If they like it, they'll buy it, and if they love it they may decide to ask for more. In between sales you'll be able to hop across town to the Buyers' Center to purchase more stock for your shop, from wholesale outlets for each of the sixteen in-game brands.
It's difficult to explain exactly why, but this process quickly becomes addictive. Selling in the shop, stringing together 'combos' of outfits, and then heading to the buyer's centre to replenish your stock with new arrivals is a constantly engaging circle of commerce, and a wonderfully fun gameplay base. It's also more nuanced than it might seem, thanks to the 'Try it on!' system, which adds a welcome bit of risk-reward to Style Savvy's retail world. When a customer has a request — for a striped top, or shoes to match their hat, for instance — once you've got something to suggest you can choose to present it to them either with 'Take a look!' or 'Try it on!'. If you pick the former, you'll have three chances to come up with something the customer likes, and they'll give you feedback if it's not exactly what they were looking for. If you pick 'Try it on!', however, it's a one-shot gambit: if they love it, they'll be so impressed with your confidence that they'll buy it and ask for more to go with it — but if they don't, they'll head out empty handed then and there. This simple choice is at the heart of Style Savvy's sales-sim success: rather than just matching clothing items to requests until you get it right, you're betting on your own fashion sense, and the promise of bigger sales and coordinating full outfits drove us to the 'Try it on!' button as much as possible.
Beyond pushing pants and tops, running your fashion empire in Style Savvy also involves customizing your store — choosing between different layouts and music — designing and sending out flyers, dressing up mannequins, and putting your best out on the runway in Contests. These give you a chance to break out of the routine a bit, and stretch your stylistic thinking: each contest has a theme, and you're given free reign to dress a runway model to match the motif. They're not as interactive as contests in the later games — there's no runway coaching or doing hair and makeup to match the outfit — but they're still fun, and along with bragging rights, winning grants cash prizes and exclusive wardrobe options. Contest judges are significantly more picky than your average customer, too, so they can be tricky, and putting together outfits for such specific themes is a great way to put all those Buyers' Center purchases to good use.
Of course, any budding fashionista needs a work-life balance, and though Style Savvy's little city isn't nearly as bustling as Trendsetters or Fashion Forwards' metropolises, there's still plenty to do when you step outside the shop. You can hang out in your apartment, get your hair done (picking both new styles and colours) at the salon, or stop by the cosmetics store to pick up some new makeup. All of these outings make for fun diversions, though they definitely underscore the progress made in Style Savvy's sequels; after getting to cut hair, do makeup, and design clothes for clients in Fashion Forward, it's disappointing to only be able to customize your own look here. Likewise, we really miss the just-for-fun leisure activities — like hanging out at the café or going for walks in the park — that make Trendsetters and Fashion Forward's worlds feel so alive.
The seeds of that ethos are definitely present in Style Savvy, however, and it comes through in small but beautiful details in the presentation: the Nuances newspaper that delivers in-game news in a cool, magazine-style format, the fact that the town's streets are named after famous fashion locales — like 'Saville Road' and 'Ginza Street' — and the quirky dialogue, character bios, and NPCs. Style Savvy's DS roots are well apparent, with blocky character models and minimalist backgrounds (with Tokyo Mirage Sessions-style silhouettes for passersby), but it's all delivered with such an upbeat confidence that it comes off as appealing.
As for the clothes themselves, the wardrobe spans a huge range of styles, designs, colours and clothing types. Split over different brands, each of which has their own style and image, they run the gamut from frog-stamped poppy dresses and cat-cosplay to flowing evening wear, tartan prep-school fashions, and punked-up skirts and tops. Clothes can look quite pixelated, though the strong designs mean they've held up better than we'd expected, and since many of them have carried through the series we had fun seeing where Trendsetters and Fashion Forward's designs got their start.
The same goes for the soundtrack, which sports a slightly more eclectic take on the signature syn Sophia sound found in its sequels. There's still the shimmeringly smooth synthesized jazz, bossa nova and electronica we've come to love, but this original Style Savvy also has hints of minimalist J-hip hop that fits in perfectly — think Wii Fit meets Persona 3. It's a catchy and melodic as ever, and we've been humming several shop and town tunes for weeks.
Aside from the quality of the original game, this Virtual Console release marks a nearly flawless return to the runway — Style Savvy works wonderfully on the Wii U. As one of the relatively few 'book mode' DS titles meant to be played holding the system on its side at the hinge, like an open paperback, it makes a seamless transition to the Virtual Console, with both DS screens displayed side-by-side on the GamePad and mirrored on the TV. In fact, in our view, it works even better than the original implementation; we loved being able to prop the GamePad up in-lap and play comfortably on the couch, the stylus controls feel great on the larger touchscreen, and the D-Pad is significantly easier to use on the GamePad than it was on the sideways DS. Style Savvy makes for a surprisingly engaging spectator experience too, and having everything mirrored on the TV opens up the option for friends and family to celebrate and critique your fashion sense as you play.
Elsewhere, Style Savvy benefits enormously from the Virtual Console's screen smoothing, which levels out the otherwise distractingly-pixelated text and character models, and Miiverse integration, which feels tailor-made for sharing outfits and ensembles online. The only disappointment is the now-standard removal of multiplayer components, which once let players participate in co-op contests, swap flyers, and visit each other's shops.
Like blue jeans or the little black dress, Style Savvy proves that classics are always in style. This DS début doesn't reach the runway heights of its two 3DS sequels, but it still holds up nicely and is well worth playing, with addictive gameplay, fun fashion and tons of charm. It also feels right at home on the Wii U, thanks to the GamePad's dual-DS-screen display, comfortable touchscreen controls and helpful screen-smoothing filter. If you're looking to bust into the fashion world, we'd still recommend Trendsetters or Fashion Forward first, but as a streamlined introduction and console counterpart — or a playable peek into the origins of syn Sophia's fashion-sim series — Style Savvy on the Wii U is a hit.