How little gameplay can a game have before it ceases to qualify as one? Winged Cloud seem to be hellbent on exploring that question. The creators of Pyrite Heart and the Sakura line of visual novels recently graced the PC with a new exclusive: Sakura Clicker. If you played Cookie Clicker or its numerous clones, your eye is twitching right now as those repressed memories of wasted time come rushing back like yesterday’s moonshine. There is no story, no characterization, no rhyme or reason; here, as there, you click for the sole purpose of clicking more efficiently. Although the art and sheer amount of milestones set Sakura Clicker a step above other games like it, it ultimately does nothing to advance the frontier of the genre.
Perhaps I expect too much from it in that regard. There’s only so much you can do with the formula, after all. Gameplay is summed up in the second word of the title: you battle a surprisingly diverse cast of anime-style monster girls – from bears to slimes to dragons – by clicking on them. That’s it. Every aspect of the game is devoted to furthering that single mechanic: defeated enemies give you gold, which you use to hire party members that automatically attack for you. You can upgrade your character for increased damage and various powerups, and improving your party members increases your DPS and gold gain. Restarting rewards you with a currency called “spirits” depending on your progress, which you use to improve your stats from the beginning and get farther.
This is the part that makes me hesitate to call Sakura Clicker a game. There’s no skill involved in advancement. Choices are limited to which upgrades and bonuses you spend your money on, with little apparent difference among them. The only element of challenge comes from clicking temporary pop-ups for bonus gold. I don’t count defeating enemies as a challenge, because they don’t resist at all. Every tenth girl is a boss you have 30 seconds to click to death, but there’s no penalty for defeat, and you always have the option to retreat and come back later when you’ve grinded enough. This means you can leave the game running for a few hours and come back with everything you need to succeed, without lifting a finger. The game even gives you gold when you fire it up again, depending on how long it’s been since last you played. There isn’t even a start screen; you just come right back to where you were.
So you click and you click, or you give up clicking and wait for the game to reward you for not playing it. If the gameplay doesn’t drive you to that point, the audio certainly will. The music is catchy but there’s only the one track. You’ll turn off the sounds a bit at a time: first the music so you can listen to something else, then either the sound effects or the voices. Oh, there are voices all right: there are “800+ moans as you defeat the monsters”. That’s taken directly from the game’s Steam page. “No,” I hear you whispering as you reach for your liquor cabinet. “It can’t possibly be that kind of game.” Yes, yes it is. Conveniently located within the game’s statistics is “Enemies/Bosses Added to Harem.”
Much like the dating sim/Candy Crush clone HuniePop, this game has mostly positive reviews on Steam, most of which are ironic, of the “Totally worth getting put on an FBI watch list!” flavor. But unlike HuniePop, Sakura Clicker lacks strategy, personality or humor. Every problem in the game can be solved by vibrating your hand, a skill I’m sure anyone could put to a more fulfilling use on their own time. Now, this game is free to play, but there are ten 99-cent DLC packs, all of which are alternate costumes for your character. And yes, you can dress her as a catgirl or a maid. Presumably the government keeps a record of those who spend their money this way, on a list labeled “Do not admit into fallout shelter.”
I freely admit that I spent several hours on Sakura Clicker. I have the sort of addictive personality that keeps me clicking toward the next powerup or party member. But I can’t praise the game for appealing to that facet of my psyche, any more than I can praise a bug zapper for attracting moths. It does what it’s designed to do based on a formula that depends on taking advantage of the participants’ weakness.
The art is good, I’ll give it that. The game is divided into zones with vibrant backgrounds: a tea house, a beach, a village, a hellscape, and so on. Each monster girl has a distinctive design depending on her species, and I was surprised to keep discovering new ones the farther I progressed. It’s clear that Winged Cloud’s artists can draw; they just don’t do anything worthwhile with their art. There might be more of a reason to play this game if you were rewarded with unique art for your progress, perhaps even with the DLC costumes. You aren’t, so there isn’t.
At best, Sakura Clicker is a prettier version of a hundred games you’ve seen already. It’s an exercise in PG-13 inanity: mildly amusing at first, but the novelty wears off quickly. It’s been four years since my last economics class, but I remember the concept of opportunity cost: any time you spend on this game could be better used on something more worthwhile.