I reckon I may have a soft spot for weird summer-camp stories, if my love of Gravity Falls (technically not a camp, but hush) and Psychonauts is anything to go by. Camp W definitely fits the bill, telling the story of a young witch (gender of your choosing) spending summer at camp amongst the less magically inclined folk. There’s some snappy writing, some genuinely charming cartoon art, and while ostensibly a visual novel, there’s a bit more to do than just clicking through the story and enjoying the ride.
At this point the term ‘dating sim’ is synonymous with visual novels about building up relationships, but developer Alexei Bochenek described it to me as a “Friending sim”, which doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as smoothly, but does describe it pretty well. In-between reading and watching, you’ll get to choose what activities to do each day, who to hang out with, and occasionally use your manually cast magic spells to directly affect the course of the story.
Play your cards right as you magically bumble around Camp W and you might end up with some BFFs. Don’t, and… who cares? You’re an almighty magic-user and could probably turn them all into frogs. I really must gush a little about Camp W’s art. Were it not for it being mostly static, I could almost believe these were shots from some long-lost Nickelodeon TV show. It’s an absolute treat to look at. While kid-friendly, it’s written with the intent of being entertaining for all ages, as all the best cartoons are.
While there’s been a huge number of visual novels landing on Steam over the past year or two, it’s exciting that we’re seeing the genre broaden like this. More art styles, newer, wider audiences (this is about as far as you could get from EXTREME MEATPUNKS FOREVER) and some interesting experimentation with the fundamentals of the genre. Bring on the crop of 2019, says me.