I have a major soft spot for relaxing games. The kind of game that makes you feel like you’re wrapped up in a blanket and have a cup of hot cocoa during a rainy sunset. Sometimes a game can be as low stakes as humanly possible but still suck you into its environment. Indie titles have this extra gift of often making that environment somewhere you never really expected would make for a good video game. And it’s Dépanneur Nocturne that has us sucked into an unassuming convenience store in the middle of a rainy city.
Dépanneur Nocturne was highlighted during the Wholesome Direct towards the end of May, and this is one game that immediately caught my attention. The premise is pretty straightforward; you play as a nameless, faceless character who wants to buy a gift for their partner, but all the other shops are closed. So, you step into this little shop, and with the help of a salamander woman behind the counter, you need to find the perfect gift. I say perfect gift, but really, there is no right answer. You can actually beat this game in about two minutes if you feel so inclined. Nothing is stopping you from running in, grabbing the first turnip or romantic comedy DVD you see, paying for it and being on your way.
There could have easily been higher stakes to Dépanneur Nocturne. There could be the possibility of buying a gift that your partner hates, or there could be a time limit that forces you to make a snappier decision. There could have been an actual concern about the price of certain items, or any number or other worries that this game just doesn’t concern itself with. Dépanneur Nocturne has none of these things, and personally, I think it’s better for that.
There are several items in the shop that you can actually pick up and purchase as gifts. If you bring it up to the counter, the nice salamander lady will tell you a little bit about it and ask if it’s something you’d like to buy. Out of curiosity, I did a playthrough where I bought basically every single item I could, and your partner, who is a dear deer by the way, does comment on how you bought a lot of stuff. It’s a nice extra touch that I really appreciated.
For those who are genuinely interested in exploration, there is a surprisingly high amount of things to find to stuff to mess with. Want to pour yourself a complimentary cup of coffee or six? Go right ahead. Then after all that coffee you’ll probably need to use the bathroom, so after asking the salamander if you can use the bathroom about seven times, she’ll give you the key to get into the basement. Suddenly the calm music goes away, and the comforting lights of the shop are replaced with a dull gray as you explore a subterranean basement that might seem like its straight out of a horror game. There are times when Dépanneur Nocturne may seem creepy or unsettling, but it’s important to remember that nothing in this game will ever hurt you.
Throughout the shop and basement you’ll also find a nice amount of coins throughout. These coins can be used to buy yourself a soda in the basement (and who wouldn’t want a nice refreshing Porp?) or right by the door of the store you can buy a capsule toy. Or all the capsule toys. I’ve checked - if you wanted to you don’t even have to buy anything from the shop itself. Your partner would be perfectly happy to just get one of these capsule toys, but come on, we can do better than that, can’t we?
And that’s basically the general vibe of Dépanneur Nocturne. What do you want to buy? What do you want to do? The game can be as long or as short as you want it to be, but honestly, you can do just about everything the game has to offer in about an hour. There is a bit of replay value in the experimentation of trying out different gifts and seeing what else you can get from the salamander woman, but this probably isn’t a game you’ll come back to again and again.
When I was trying to think of criticisms for this game or ways that it could have been improved, I really couldn’t come up with any. For what Dépanneur Nocturne set out to do, it managed to do it darn near perfectly. The shop is cozy and comfortable. The dialogue from the shopkeeper is charming and memorable. What could be called the game’s puzzles aren’t major head scratchers, but will have players feeling clever enough for figuring them out. The creator of Dépanneur Nocturne, G.P. Lackey, set out to make a short and wholesome indie experience that can be enjoyed in a single sitting, and they definitely succeeded.
Dépanneur Nocturne can be picked up for less than the cost of any of the gifts you’d find in the lovely salamander’s shop, so maybe instead of buying your partner that jug of mushroom milk or seeing if they’d want a crowbar you found, why not get them a copy of this game instead? It's a present that would work well for any occasion.