A light, slight, often charming visual novel with a surprising variety of tone but not enough content to sustain a keen sweet tooth.
This review of Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is based on the Xbox One version. It is also available on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Android, PC, Linux, Mac, and Playstation Vita.
The visual novel is a niche genre, and one thoroughly mistrusted by the not-a-real-game crowd, though there have been no shortage of them – including some truly excellent ones – over the years. Such a game is unlikely to ever set the world alight, sandwiched on digital storefronts between big-budget releases and indie critical darlings, but developer NomnomNami, and especially notorious conveyer-belt publisher Ratalaika Games, never seem to get the message about what’s hot and what’s not. Thus we have Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet, a cute but very slight visual novel about the titular principled candy alchemist Syrup, her less scrupulous shop assistant Pastille, and a plot kick-started by the appearance of an all-candy golem in the shop’s basement.
You can eat that golem, which will catapult you straight to one of ten – five good, five bad – endings. But you’re obviously better off not doing and allowing the actual story to branch out from there, informed by player decisions which, thanks to the pliability of the format, properly reshape events along your chosen lines. This is the obvious appeal of the visual novel and of this one especially, since it’s short enough and boasts enough convenience features – the ability to rapidly fast-forward between key decisions, for instance – that you can conceivably see everything the game has to offer without much effort.
This is, naturally, a double-edged sword. While you might be compelled to speed through a few times and see what’s possible, once you’ve done so there’s very little reason to return. The story’s serviceable if entirely unremarkable, and despite some flirtations with darker humour and themes than the cutesy hand-drawn aesthetic might suggest, it’s unlikely to linger – the synth-y score, too, is fitting but unmemorable.
What works best about Syrup and the Ultimate Sweet is its utterly gonzo treatment of genre and tone; depending on which options you pick, the outcome can range from a saccharine tale of friendship to deeply weird body horror, and it’s nice having that kind of flexibility in the same framework. While the characters are visually memorable, some of the weaker narrative strands reduce them to broad archetypes, and the better, weirder tales do serve to make others feel even less noteworthy. This, though, I suppose is inevitable, and in such a slight package seems unreasonable to complain too much about.
Those with a sweet tooth will find a decent amount to like here, even if it’s relatively safe-feeling style and lightness of content ensure it won’t last much longer than your average sugar rush.
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