There was a young woman named Elise, an unassuming villager in the small, quiet town of Kieferberg. One day, an odd girl appeared outside Elise’s house. Elise took her in and fed her, and they quickly became friends. But as strange things began to happen around town, rumors started to spread, and the neighbors grew to become suspicious of Elise and the outsider. Elise didn’t know what to do, but as the days went by, the town would become unrecognizable, and unusual things would happen to her late in the night…
It’s Little Goody Two Shoes! The new game from Astral Shift follows Elise, a young woman trying to make her way in a small, close-knit village that is happy to stay that way. Little Goody Two Shoes is mainly a life sim. However, it’s difficult to capture in any single category, as it’s also a mix of dating sim, survival horror, and roguelite (emphasis on “lite”) drenched in horror, Disney, and classic anime. If that sounds like a tasty concoction, you’re in for a treat (or a trick?).
The odd girl introduces herself as Rozenmarine, and her one-eyed goat is named Flocke. Feeling sorry for them, Elise lets them stay with her. Rozenmarine speaks of some weird things, yet Elise sees that she means no harm. Coincidentally, rumors of a witch are floating around in Kieferberg, and as the days go by, disturbing incidents only cause those rumors to fester. Elise, already not on the greatest terms with the deeply religious town, must go on the defensive as accusations and not-quite accusations fly at and around her. Meanwhile, Elise begins having strange experiences after she lays her head on her pillow. It’s up to you to help Elise survive to see the next day as the threats against her pile up.
Little Goody Two Shoes‘s style instantly grabs your attention with a cinematic that recalls an old, colorful storybook, telling a fairy tale that is at once whimsical yet carries a creepy undertone. The German writing throughout brings to mind dark tales like Hansel and Gretel. The menu cheerily evokes a classic Disney princess movie, the title spelled out by a ribbon and a fluttery theme song that should be accompanied by singing birds. It doesn’t stay all that cheery, as there’s a dark side to the world of Little Goody Two Shoes that peeks through a little at a time, like in the howling winds at night. Eventually, the darkness completely takes over, but I won’t go into that any further now. The experience is an overwhelming, manic tour de force for the senses, consistently taking bold directions far more irreverent than Shrek could ever dream of. I’ve already said a lot, but it’s best to go into the ride that is Little Goody Two Shoes knowing as little as possible.
The gameplay in Little Goody Two Shoes is on the simpler side, mainly involving exploring the town and its surrounding areas and managing Elise’s day-to-day activities to try to keep her from dying. Each day is split into six parts, and as she goes through each, she becomes hungrier (for food, nothing sinister), so you need to feed her. But she can’t eat without food, and she can’t get food without money. So, you need to perform odd jobs around town to survive. Those odd jobs involve playing simple minigames like catching apples falling from trees or chopping wood. She also has a health meter, and of course, if that runs out, Elise dies. As the days pass, the townspeople become increasingly suspicious, especially of Elise and Rozenmarine. If you speak to people around town, you’re often forced to answer their prying questions. Even if you’re feeling snarky, you ought to be careful about what you say, or they may become suspicious. None of this is challenging to manage, and it’s all mainly to put you in Elise’s shoes and to promote a creepy, oppressive atmosphere.
But life isn’t living without finding something you love. There are three ladies in town whom Elise can romance: Rozenmarine, the witchy sort; Freya, the green thumb; and Lebkuchen, the devout nun. Romance isn’t a side attraction, but dating is an integral aspect of the experience. Mechanically, dating works pretty simply: just meet your woman when she’s available. It’s more time management than anything. Even beyond the horror and inquisition, Little Goody Two Shoes may be a romantic tale above all else. It’s life-affirming witnessing love flourish between Elise and whomever she falls for.
Then, there’s the scary part. After Elise goes to bed at night, bizarre things happen to her. These nightmarish scenes are where the health meter comes into play. You usually need to explore the strange environs you find yourself in, with some macabre yet clever puzzles to solve. Little Goody Two Shoes transitions so smoothly into these segments that it doesn’t take you out of the experience. These portions run the gamut of horror from unsettling images to being chased. Get that right index finger ready to hold down the right trigger because you need to run.
The game ends up juggling a beautifully dissonant combination of elements. Little Goody Two Shoes doesn’t cut corners in any one area but goes all out in everything it attempts. It all fits together like a snug puzzle (albeit one with some sharp corners). It’s all about the narrative and building a spooky mood with a glimmer of hope always peeking through the gloom. There are ten possible endings. That doesn’t mean you need to play all the way through ten times, as I saw about half of them in a single playthrough using strategic saves. Some of the endings are happier than others, but all are glorious, sometimes in twisted ways. I don’t have many nitpicks, but it would have been nice to have a speedier playthrough option for those who would like to see all the endings without running through the whole game several times.
Astral Shift consistently provides incredible imagery to suck you into the world of Little Goody Two Shoes. It’s astounding how good this 2D world always looks. The game is constantly visually interesting, sometimes subtly, like a sepia filter over everything after a particularly disturbing night or overtly bathing you in rich imagery. You encounter some beautiful and terrifying creatures in Elise’s adventures. There’s a classic anime vibe that hearkens to Sailor Moon over the whole production, especially in the characters’ portraits, but also in the constant graininess you’d see while watching an old, worn-out VHS tape. In-engine, the sprites and their animations are simple, but the developers have enough magic tricks to distract you so you won’t even notice. Overall, the appearance is a meticulously crafted visual feast with beautiful, detailed drawings and lots of movement.
The sound is also excellent, with a gorgeous, sweeping soundtrack and vivid sound effects. The game goes through many moods, and the sound goes a long way to set the tone in any situation. There are glorious musical numbers. Voice acting is limited, but the little there is a nice touch to set the mood. The controls are perfectly responsive for those times when you need to run for it.
Elise is an excellent lead character for this story. She’s intelligent and witty. Though she’s sick and tired of living her lowly life and dreams of something bigger, she also cares for the people of Kieferberg. Her love only wanes for some individuals as the ugliness of growing accusatory attitudes pulls the town apart. The game quickly establishes other characters’ roles in the story, and even though the game is on the short side, you get to know many of them and where they stand. The setting of a pre-modern German village is perfect. If you ever wished the movie The Witch was turned into a video game with cute anime trappings, the thematic similarities are there, but that still only scratches the surface of what Little Goody Two Shoes is.
There’s a long history linking accusations of witchcraft to the oppression of women and LGBTQ communities in societies much like Kieferberg in many parts of the world. With the subject matter of Little Goody Two Shoes, it’s not difficult to see the similarities in this story. However, it is a celebration of lesbian romance, and while there are themes of what it’s like to be under a crowd’ suspicion, there’s refreshingly no degrading of Elise and her prospective partners directly for that aspect of who they are. With all the elements at play, it’s nice to see a story about persecution that avoids overt bigotry, even though those connections should be easy for those familiar with stories like this. It’s an elegant way of telling a story like this without being hurtful.
The romance is decadent, the horror is seriously scary, it’s a richly immersive atmosphere and a fun tribute to classic anime, so what’s not to love about Little Goody Two Shoes? If you enjoy narrative games and have the nerve to overcome the fear, this is one to check out. Astral Shift is a wickedly creative group, and they’ve put a ton of love into this game. So, light the lantern and venture out into the dark.