Who cares about future-dogs? Call of Duty: Ghosts mind-controls its dog, Westwood's Blade Runner game blew its up, and Dog of Dracula, well, just look how he turned out. Is life so grim for all future-dogs? Not if you're any good at cyberpunk bartending game VA-11 HALL-A (or Valhalla, because that's just awful). Sukeban Games have released a prologue chapter of their tend 'em up for pre-orderers, which has you mixing drinks for a load of adorable talking corgis. They run their own dog toy company and have hired your bar for a private party, see.
Valhalla's part visual novel, part mix 'em up. Folks (or dogs) roll up to the bar and you have a bit of a chat, then ask you for a drink. These are mixed from five ingredients, in varying proportions, and prepared and served in various ways. Mixing's mostly clicking the right buttons and a little timing, a simplified version of a cooking game. Pleasingly, drinks are your dialogue options. You can't choose what you say, but you can shape conversations by mixing different beverages--something alcoholic for the designated driver, something to calm down an over-excited corgi--or simply cocking it up. But this is tricky, and getting enough orders wrong ends the game.
It'll tell you a drink's ingredients but not how to mix it, leading to frustrating trial-and-error or inexplicable failure. When it suggests alternative drinks for characters, it won't even tell you the ingredients. My character might have all this knowledge, but I certainly don't.
But the writing is jolly pleasant. It's fun to chat with drunk dogs and their humanoid helpers. Some of Valhalla's politics, channelled through the corgis' prejudices, can feel a mite heavy-handed, mind.
Pre-orders are $4.99 (£3) on Itch.io, giving instant access to the prologue chapter. The full game is expected in December. Sukeban Games are switching engine from Ren'Py to Game Maker for the full thing. Our Bargain Bucketeer Cassandra did some sort of work on this game, I should say. I don't know what. I don't know what everyone's up to. Who do you think I am, their bartender?