Potion Permit doesn’t seem to do anything in a hurry, and that’s because it’s a game that expects you to be with it for a long time to come. It’s a life simulation, really, dressed up as a potion making game. You’re a chemist sent to a town to brew potions, but here’s a house to decorate and machines to renovate, and here are townsfolk whose friendships you’ll have to earn before they – and the services they offer – open up. Oh, and they have daily rhythms you’ll have to adapt to and work around. Try and catch someone out of hours and they won’t want to know: you’ll have to wait until morning when they’re officially on duty again. It all takes time.
The game unfolds mechanically in a very similar way, introducing new ideas slowly. After a couple of hours’ play, I’ve only seen a few of what I suspect will be many gameplay ideas overall, and most of them mini-games. But the core idea is resource-gathering and crafting.
When you’re in the wilds, Potion Permit feels like an old-school action RPG, in that you hit enemies with a button-press and then roll around to dodge their attacks. You don’t have to kill enemies – combat doesn’t seem to be the point of the game – but you’ll be attacked and enemies drop useful ingredients, so why not?
The other ingredients you need, you harvest, by equipping the appropriate tool – scythe, axe or hammer – and then mashing them on whatever node you need destroyed: plant, tree or stone.
But crafting works slightly differently. When you eventually unlock your cauldron, you’ll find a Tetris-like puzzle game that governs potion making. It allows you to use a variety of ingredients which, as long as they all fit inside a larger shape, and fill it completely up, will produce a potion. It’s a nice approach. And there’s an entire workshop of broken down machines to repair that presumably all have mini-games of their own.
The only other mini-game I’ve actually seen is a rhythm action game in, surprisingly, the hospital area of the game. I button-matched to diagnose a patient’s problem, as you do. But there wasn’t any music with it, which is odd for rhythm action, and the implementation seemed basic. Nevertheless, it held my attention for a few minutes.
This is how Potion Permit seems to go, then: slowly. Because it assumes you’re here for the long haul, it takes time to introduce things to you. It doesn’t mind making you traipse back and forth a bit to harvest ingredients, nor does it mind involving you in lots of interrupting scene-setting vignettes that root you to the spot, nor does it mind you having to earn the mechanical variety it offers.
But to complain about it seems slightly beside the point, because a lot of the charm of Potion Permit is simply being in it – in its world, in its company. This is the digital equivalent of a cup of hot chocolate: all warm cuddles and sugary sweet cheeriness. It’s an idyllic town from a pixelated picture book, as dinky as a toy set, and always bathed in sunshine or dappled in moonlight or flickering in warm candlelight. Things are okay here, things are calm, so why not stay a while and take a load off? There’s no hurry.