When Life Gives You Lemons

John Apple, collegiate playboy extraordinaire, must return home to Fruitville now that his credit card’s been suspended. Not that he’s going to find much financial support there — the family juice business has just been driven under and is about to be bought out by the underhanded Emperor Juice corporation! Deciding this is the last straw, John sets out with the Apple family’s last remaining juicer on his quest to rebuild the brand so that it can repel financial takeover.

Filled to the brim with one fruit pun after another, the plot of Fruit Juice Tycoon 2 (Out Now for $2.99, Lite) does itself a favor in quickly fading to the background once the protagonist’s goal is established — although it’s worth noting that the translation quality is very satisfactory aside from rare typos and occasionally stiff dialogue. Essentially a fruitier take on the established Korean mobile RPG formula, Fruit Juice Tycoon 2 revolves around a series of linear storyline quests and nonlinear sidequests. There is an interesting catch this time around: John has exactly three months to complete his mission and various quests have their own time limits, so the player must carefully budget time on the ever ticking in-game clock.

Whereas a typical RPG hero looks for baddies to bash in with martial implements, John wanders Fruitville’s districts in search of appropriate spots to set up his fruit juice stand. When it’s time to do battle in the arena of brand recognition, the player manages John’s tasks of fruit crushing – something that occurs through a Match 3 process – and serving customer orders. Neither of these are particularly interesting when considered separately, but the fact that both tasks have to be completed continually and simultaneously until customers run out makes for a surprisingly challenging and addictive battle system-of-sorts. Strategic considerations abound: John enters each sales episode with only so many pieces of fruit and other necessary materials on hand, and squeezed juice in his shop’s storage bins goes to waste if it isn’t used by the time a sales period ends. Rather than gain experience points along with his stream of revenue, John gains brand reputation within the current district. Whether this is built up or depleted depends entirely on the player’s performance in pleasing customers; if things get too hot to handle it might be worth foregoing revenue and closing shop early to limit the flood of complaints.

Fruit Juice Tycoon 2‘s primary game mechanic undergoes numerous evolutions over the course of John’s quest, heaping ever more complications onto the basic juice serving formula. This is definitely welcome and usually eased with tutorials, keeping the game fresh over a playthrough liable to stretch up to twenty hours. The game does share a fundamental flaw with some of its earliest RPG cousins, however. Combat-centric RPGs had the now-dreaded “level grind,” and Fruit Juice Tycoon 2 requires analogous grinding for cash and reputation depending on the completion requirements of given quests. Truth is, successful entrepreneurship is an achingly slow process, and the game seems bent on replicating this truth all too exactly. John’s revenues earned in any one sales episode are paltry until the player can take advantage of perks like royalties and learning where to replenish supplies at lowest cost, making the first half of the game drag on despite all the interesting nuances that are gradually stirred in.

There’s certainly plenty of stuff to splurge all that revenue on, too — most of it completely necessary. Shopping, and doing so most efficiently, plays a far more central role in Fruit Juice Tycoon 2 than RPG veterans are used to, if you can imagine that! Resupplyig the various materials that go into running a juice stand always cuts into John’s profits. Moreover, he must save up for expansions to his juice stand that range from doilies that increase customer patience, to faster juice dispensers, to vehicles that allow him to lug more equipment around. The key to efficiency is raising the Apple brand’s reputation in all of Fruitville’s six districts, each of which offers a particular perk that makes the player’s task a bit less cumbersome. Naturally all this running around serving customers and replenishing supplies in between taxes John’s stamina – measured in HP, that most basic of RPG staples – so the player also needs to make sure he gets adequate rest at his bachelor pad or risk hospital stays that further cut into his shoestring budget.

Fruit Juice Tycoon 2 relies almost completely on touch-sensitive objects as opposed to virtual buttons, and easily avoids the control issues most Korean RPGs suffer from on the iOS. The one sticking point when it comes to user interface is the game’s propensity to continue recording taps during transition from sales period to overworld. Since the player is hardly keeping track of how many customers remain in a particular location during all of John’s fruit squishing and straw serving, instinctual reaching for the touchscreen often continues after the game auto-ends a sales period, and this means John will do plenty of unintended rushing around when he emerges on Fruitville’s overworld again. This is a minor nuisance except in cases where the player happens to be cutting it close in managing his HP — this is consumed with every in-game action, including travel.

Fruit Juice Tycoon 2 is aesthetically pleasing in visual terms. If only we could see more of those lovely portraits reserved for major NPCs, and get a closer look at the hand-drawn sprites on overworld screens! The game fares much less well musically, with jingles that tend to be forgettable all around. Particularly irksome is the alarm jingle that plays when John’s health reaches the forty percent mark or so — an occasion that’s going to happen quite often, and during sales periods too! There’s nothing in the world quite so jarring as trying to concentrate on furnishing a mixed-color drink with extra ice while that’s blaring out your earbuds — the fuming customer line is taxing enough as it is!

iFanzine Verdict: A thorough and excellently polished genre mashup that should appeal well to simulation, RPG, and action puzzle fans alike. Despite its tour-de-force approach to content variety, depth, and playthrough length, Fruit Juice Tycoon 2 does suffer from a very slowly progressing first half that demands plenty of stamina and patience on the player’s part. This is one you’ll want to play through gradually over a few weeks’ time rather than attempt to finish all at once.

[xrr rating=4/5]