Listen: my girlfriend isn’t really into videogames. Every now and then the urge will overtake her, and we’ll play a few seasons of Stardew Valley together. Other than that, however, they don’t really intrigue her. To her, my Xbox Series S is what a misguided Microsoft once envisioned for the console: a pretty good TV streaming box. So when she independently came to me and demanded we install The Good Life on the thing, I knew there had to be something to the game. What we found was an experience that was both engrossing and charming, and, while rough around the edges, still featured a well-thought-out user experience.
The game’s premise parallels that of other life simulators, but with some added flavors that make it stand out. Naomi Hayward is a journalist who, through the power of backstory, has amassed $30 million in debt. Instead of sending an army of debt collectors after her, however, she is given the chance by the Morning Bell News to pay off her debt by working in the idyllic village of Rainy Woods in the English countryside. There, she is tasked with uncovering what’s behind the town’s labeling of being the “happiest town in the world.”
At the same time, the newspaper asks Naomi to put her photography skills to use by snapping pictures around town and uploading them to the social media site Flamingo. Flamingo is essentially Instagram, but where likes on a photo translate to dollars in your pocket.
While this is definitely the best-case scenario for someone in Naomi’s position she isn’t exactly thrilled at the opportunity. At any given opportunity, Naomi is liable to call Rainy Woods—again, an idyllic village in the English countryside—a “god damn hell hole.” Not long after the residents of Rainy Woods give Naomi a free house, complete with a burgeoning garden and at least an acre of land, she goes on a brief tirade bookended with this phrase.
Naomi approaches nearly every situation with this level of disgust and apathy, but seems to always accept whatever is happening around her. Before long, Naomi discovers that residents of the town transform into cats and dogs during full moons. She herself is graced with the ability to transform into both a cat and dog at will. Neither of these supernatural occurrences come across as off to Naomi, but rather annoyances that have been added to her already full plate.
As Naomi tries to uncover the real reason behind the town’s happiness (it couldn’t possibly be that they get to turn into cats and dogs, right?), a murder occurs. At this point, its up to Naomi to solve the murder while also paying off her debt and keeping the Morning Bell pleased. There’s a lot of moving parts to the game, and just getting to the actual inciting murder can take a few hours. But the game balances it all surprisingly well, to the point where no one element feels like a more worthwhile time investment than the rest.
Take the photo system, for instance. The player is given quite a few questlines to make sense of it. Each potential subject has descriptions associated with them that the player can check. Put a knight into frame, snap a photo, and you’ll see every description of them possible; knight, strong, metal, and so on. Every few days, a new list of trending “Hot Words” will appear on Flamingo. Photos with descriptions that match these Hot Words earn more likes, and thus more money for Naomi. This system, combined with the game’s setting, could have been the entirety of the game. But the real result of this is that every few days I would go out, snap a few pics that matched the Hot Words, upload them, and rake in the likes for a couple of days. While I waited for the Hot Words to refresh, I would tend to my garden, complete more of the side quests or work on the main questline.
By never forcing me to progress in any certain direction but rather encouraging a diversity of activities, the game ensured that everything I could do stayed fresh and exciting. All of my tasks were made even easier by the game’s stellar user interface. It’s not the sexiest thing to talk about in a game review, but The Good Life has an intuitive UI that never bogs down the game. I was able to quickly and easily snap photos when time was of the essence, as well as constantly check up on my stats and quests with ease.
Still, there are some areas where the game leaves something to be desired. The low-poly graphics are charming at times and reminiscent of the Wii era, but objects regularly seem to clash with each other. Much of the expansive map is empty space also, with most places worth visiting having a warp totem. But with most of the gameplay cycle being solid, most small grievances rarely come up.
On top of everything, there is Naomi herself. Everything that happens in Rainy Woods borders on the absurd, and regularly dips into the supernatural. Through it all, Naomi just seems absolutely livid that she has to do anything at all—and it’s fantastic. She’ll be told that she needs to learn how to ride sheep in order to become a proper knight and she sees no whimsy at all in this, resorting instead to her classic apathy. Plunk Kazuma Kiryu from Yakuza into the story and keep all of the same lines and it would be a perfect fit. Her straight-woman approach to every situation adds to nearly every interaction.
Chances are if you are reading this review, you play videogames. But on the off chance you don’t touch the things, are reading this, and have ever uttered or read the word “cottagecore” earnestly: this game is for you. Find the nearest friend, family member, or partner who is always talking about what a great deal Game Pass is and force them to download it for you. If you’re already acquainted with interactive media, The Good Life is an unpredictable yet satisfying experience that seems to always be throwing the player some new curveball to keep things fresh—much like life itself.
The Good Life was developed by White Owls and published by Playism. Our review is based on the Xbox Series X|S version. It is also available for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, Xbox One, and PC.
Nicolas Perez is a freelance writer who specializes in playing too many videogames. He’s rambling on Twitter Nic_Perez__.