Warm summer nights with friends, roasting marshmallows over an open fire, and feeling the spark of first love. This is Camp Buddy.
|Authors/Artists:||Mikkoukun, Zael, Jey, Corbs, Sorashu, Ziel|
|Genre:||Romance, erotica, drama|
|Type of game:||Visual novel|
Concepts: Camp Buddy is a visual novel game which tells the story of Keitaro, a young man who is spending his holiday at a summer camp where he encounters his first love. At present, Camp Buddy features four storylines, each involving Keitaro’s budding romance with one of his other campers, with a fifth storyline scheduled to be included as free content in an upcoming patch. This game includes explicit homo-erotic content (although the focus is always squarely on inter-character drama) and therefore this review is age-gated.
Mechanics: Camp Buddy is a visual novel game, a genre very popular in parts of the world but generally less so in the west, but perhaps most comparable to the Phoenix Wright series. Artwork is featured on the screen, whilst character dialogue plays out via a text box below. As the player, you move from text box to text box, from screen to screen, reading the story as it is written. At times you will be asked to make a selection which will impact how the storyline will branch out – typically in Camp Buddy, your choices will determine which of the characters Keitaro will favour. For the first half of the game, your choices will select which of his fellow campers Keitaro will form a strong romantic bond with. That forms your ‘route’ through the game – and once you reach the half-way point of the game, your route is set. From that point out, you play through one of four storylines which are unique to each of the protagonists. Your decisions now instead reflect how close Keitaro’s bond with his chosen companion is, which will determine if you are able to achieve a happy or sad ending to the game’s story. Visual novels aren’t for everybody. They tend to limit the interaction that the player can have, and designate the player to less of an active roll in the events that unfold. Players who enjoy highly immerse experiences, or who dislike extensive reading in their games, will not find much here for them aside from the artwork, which is also a personal taste. However if you are an avid reader and enjoy being told a good story, this may be a great choice. Let’s look a little bit more at the writing.
Writing: As a visual novel, it was vital that the game incorporated strong storylines, and thankfully Camp Buddy achieves that in spades. Most of the interaction within the game centres around Keitaro as he speaks, plays around, argues and gets to know four of the other campers. They range in terms of personality from the boisterous and loud Youchi to the quiet and introverted Hunter, with the straight-laced Natsumi and ever-loyal Hiro rounding out the cast. Each of these characters brings a new dynamic to the group of characters and it is not long before their interactions start to establish unique quirks in how each character relates to one another – entire scenes will play out in which the energetic Hiro and the competitive Youchi will get into playful scuffles, while the ever-mature Natsumi lectures them both. The most important aspect of the game from the player’s perspective is the chance to discover more about each of the characters – this can only truly be done by playing through the game multiple times to achieve each route. In one route, you may uncover the secret of Hunter’s overbearing parents, while in another you might discover Youchi’s heartbreaking past. You can’t do both in one playthrough, however, so choose carefully! As well as that, Camp Buddy does have a main storyline which covers the entire narrative – the summer camp itself is under threat of closure and it’s only by concerted teamwork and effort that the campers are able to make sure that it will survive for the future. In addition, Keitaro is quickly targeted for harassment and bullying by another camper, Taiga – as you play through you are able to discover the root of his hatred for Keitaro and hopefully resolve the situation.
Artwork: Visual novels are, as the name implies, highly visual. They include a lot of artwork. Illustrations throughout the game are lush and vivid, with special attention given to atmospheric pieces that incorporate sunsets, shadows and vibrant hues. Character models are energetic and carry with them a sense of exuberant life to them. Models are typically seen as either on-screen avatars, such as when characters are speaking to one another, or as part of an (often animated) full-screen illustration like those included on this review. It should be noted, though, that the game does specify that all of the characters are over 18, important to be aware of given the situation and context of the actions depicted in the game. Although this game includes erotic scenes – all of which are non-censored and include very explicit details of genitals and sexual acts – the number of non-erotic illustrations outnumber the erotic ones, so the characters never feel objectified. Scenes in which the characters relax, play around on the beach or just share a meal together are imbued with such heart and depth that they feel truly special, just as much as any of their sexual escapades (all of which are entirely titillating). If anything, this gives the game a sense of being a mix between a coming-of-age drama with a heavy dose of innocence – comparable perhaps to the books “The Song of Achilles”, “Boy Meets Boy” and “Blue Is the Warmest Colour” but with a distinctly more anime-styled illustrative aesthetic.
Playability: At the time of writing, Camp Buddy has been available for six months. Several patches have been released which have corrected some flaws in the game, mainly in the audio playback, although a few minor spelling errors and small glitches currently persist. None of this is enough to detract from the enjoyment of the game, and a future storyline has been promised that teases the potential for a romantic storyline involving Keitaro’s rival Taiga which is enough to keep me excited to see what lies in store for the game. It should be noted that several people have expressed dissatisfaction at the price point of the game, being priced higher than typical visual novel games at $50, but as far as I’m concerned it is worth it as the small company that has produced this game have consistently put significant effort into not only continuing to support their product and offering as high a level of quality as they are able, but also fostering an enthusiastic and positive community around the game to boot.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Camp Buddy is a thoroughly enjoyable and pleasing game that evokes a strongly positive atmosphere with it, emphasising the giddy and exciting experience of first love. If you come for the sex scenes, you’ll stay for the deep and loveable characters. Definitely check this one out!