Sally's Salon
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-01-09 Nintendo DS Time Management E (Everyone) RealNetworks

While games like Diner Dash and Cake Mania have led the charge in the micromanagement genre on first the PC and now the DS, other versions have been developed around fashion design, fast food restaurants, health clubs, wedding planning, and in the case of Sally's Salon, beauty salons.

Released under the RealArcade label, Sally's Salon follows the title character on her quest to realize her dream of owning a top rated beauty salon. At first, Sally's skills are limited, and are based solely on styling a client's hair, but eventually expand to include manicures, spray tans, and much more, in Sally's effort to continue to bring in the crowds and make a name for herself in the big city.

Gameplay is very similar to any other time management sim, with one noteworthy variation on the system. Retained from similar games is the drag-and-drop gameplay that tasks you with controlling Sally's every movement, by dragging a customer (via use of the stylus/touch screen) from the waiting area to their area of choice.

A blue bubble above the customer's head indicates their desire to have their hair washed, while a yellow thought bubble corresponds to hair styling (whether basic styling, perms, or even hair dying), a green bubble for eyelash plucking or spray tanning, purple for manicures and so on. While some categories of customers, like elderly gentlemen, are very low-maintenance, requiring a simple haircut before heading to the cash register, others like businesswomen or brides desire much more, causing you to focus a substantial amount of your time on satisfying their every whim.

And while each customer comes with their own happiness meter, allowing you to keep track of who you need to attend to first (in order to prevent them from becoming annoyed enough to take their money and walk), which is an identical gameplay mechanic to most other simulations, one striking difference comes in Sally's execution of the majority of tasks within the game.

Whereas in games like Cake Mania or Diner Dash one tap of the stylus takes care of a particular task, and allows you to simply wait for it to be completed before moving on, Sally's Salon instead requires more direct player interaction. For instance, instead of simply telling Sally to cut someone's hair, you instead are required to scroll through a slideshow-like feature containing various styling options, until you find the perfect hairstyle for each particular customer. A customer's satisfaction with each hairstyle is indicated by their facial expression, with frowns obviously indicating disapproval and vice versa.

This tactic is not only used to pick haircuts, but also when deciding how dark of a tan to give your customers, how big of a perm they would like, etc. adding a bit more variety to a gameplay system which has practically saturated today's casual gaming market. In addition to the simple variation it provides, this added requirement increases the difficulty of the entire game, in that you have to spend much more time with each step (and subsequently, each customer) before moving on to the next, meaning that you MUST plan a few steps ahead in order to not turn customers away at the door because all of your styling chairs are full, for instance.

Each level comes with two monetary requirements, one of which must be met before moving onto the next level. The second monetary level is just that - secondary, and provides a heftier goal for those who are used to this sort of rapid/strategic gameplay and wish to earn as much money as humanly possible. This profit not only allows you to hire assistants that will take care of the two most mundane tasks within the shop, those being washing and blow-drying hair, allowing Sally to spend her time elsewhere, but also allows you to substantially upgrade Sally's speed around the shop, and increase customer happiness by buying more luxurious furniture, that will help your customers to relax (thus lifting their spirits) even if they are left waiting for an extended amount of time.

With so much going on in the shop at once, and such a small screen on which to present it, the majority of the game's graphics are lacking in detail. Small sprites are presented on the game's 2D shop background, with character types (businesswoman, punk rocker, and grandmother, among others) only being truly recognizable when in the game's "zoomed in" point-of-views that occur when determining a customer's desires in terms of hair color, hair style and so on. These zoomed in occurrences do contain more detail, but retain the overall cartoon look of the title, with hair of virtually every color of the rainbow and some hairstyles that are definitely out of this world. It's in these hairstyles that a slightly humorous streak comes to a head (no pun intended) within the title, as there is definitely something giggle-worthy, and probably head-turning, in seeing an elderly male with a giant pink afro.

As for the sound department, a certain elevator music quality overwhelms the entirety of the game's soundtrack, with subtle, calming tracks being combined with the game's numerous sound effects for blow dryers, sinks, cash registers and so on. Nothing noteworthy presents itself in this aspect of the title, but everything performs the way it should.

In the end, with literally dozens of options in the time management genre available in the marketplace today, it no doubt takes a certain something special to achieve great praise. And while Sally's Salon is, for the most part, a copy of its many counterparts, the gameplay does offer a considerable amount of challenge, and a noteworthy variation on the "customer satisfaction" system, giving both experienced and novice gamers something very addictive to sink their teeth into.

Specal thanks to Tiffany Dunning and RealNetworks for providing a copy of this title.