Five days ago, Janet Bhaskar left to go on a date.
She never returned.
What happened to her?
This is basically the premise of Date Warp, a visual novel by Hanako Games and Spiky Caterpillar. There’s more to it than that, obviously, but there isn’t much I can say about the story without spoiling it, other than you end up stuck in a mansion with a bunch of pretty men who are obviously hiding something. Suffice it to say that it’s very well-written with plenty of twists, so if you’re looking for a great story, this game’s got you covered. The scenes are entertaining and I’ve never felt that any of them went on for longer than they should have been (something I occasionally felt while playing 999 and Aselia the Eternal, the latter is particularly exasperating, as large swathes of text aren’t in any recognizable language at first).
You’ll notice I said “game” there, that’s because there is actually some gameplay. At decision points during the game, it’s not simply a matter of picking which option you want, instead, you play pipe dream, turning the pipes the right way so that the answer you want is highlighted. You can skip the puzzles, but in doing so, you can only select options you have previously selected in other playthroughs.
Of course, Janet isn’t in this alone, and a major factor determining which of the eleven endings she gets is which of the five boys she chooses to pursue. There’s Bradley (ASSHOLE!), her date, who is a jock, Alben, the cold and aloof one, Rafael, who is very domestic, Nathaniel, an aristocratic type, and Linds, very much the mad scientist who is a walking hurricane of innuendo, especially of the kinky sort. Janet herself is likeable. She’s a very down-to-earth, cool under pressure kind of heroine. This is actually kind of refreshing for this sort of “harem” situation. Her reaction to learning that she’s been manipulated? Throwing her shoe at the guy!
Why yes, there are plenty of references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, don’t worry though, you don’t need to have seen it to enjoy this VN, you just might miss some of the references.
The one sticking point is probably the price, $20 for a VN is kind of steep, and although your first playthrough will take a few hours, subsequent playthroughs can take fifteen minutes if you use the fast forward function. As much as I’d like it if everyone gave Hanako tons of monies, I’d definitely say wait for a sale on this one, unless you want to pad out your playthroughs by not fast-forwarding through the dialogue.
As far as whether there’s anything to watch out for, there’s a crapton of innuendo, mostly courtesy of Linds (wanting you to call him “Master” at one point and a comment about keeping handcuffs in his room) he’s not quite the “depraved bisexual” (in the sense of being a murderous psychopath) but he is definitely seen as the “weird” one of the bunch. Fortunately, he also doesn’t give a shit, and he proudly embraces the label of “creepy pervert” (just don’t call him “little”). Janet is shown in her bra a couple times (it’s completely innocent) and there’s plenty of bare male chest to go around. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be any option to romance another woman (I think this is the only game by Hanako that doesn’t have a same-sex pairing), but Linds doesn’t bother to hide the fact that he’s been with other men, and the other characters don’t seem to care that much (though Janet can react to the possibility with a “don’t want to hear about it” option during one of the dialogue choices). There’s at least one sex scene (heavily implied, though) which is completely consensual (Janet knows what she’s getting into, and she clearly wants it, despite what her parents would think, she’s an adult, after all, and capable of making her own choices).
Other things? The art is very nice, and the music does a good job of creating mood and atmosphere, even if it is kind of forgettable. If you like pretty boys, there’s plenty of eye candy here. I should point out that Janet is meant to be seen as (East) Indian. A POC (the main character, no less) in a cast full of white boys? Seriously, how many mainstream game developers would do such a thing? Granted, cultural references are pretty much confined to food (Janet is a vegetarian, and she cooks spicy food for the guys in one scene) but I guess it’s a bit more than having her darker skin be purely cosmetic.
Favourite character? Linds, so much. Yes, he’s the “creepy pervert” of the group, but I can’t resist perverted intelligent science-y types. In fact, the only character I really don’t like is Alben, maybe I’m just kind of over the “jerk” types, but I suppose I’ll have to go back and get his endings to see if he’ll open up.
Overall? This is a fun, yet short little romp (although I think you will definitely want to play through it again just for a chance at a happy ending), and I found myself more entertained by it than more professionally-produced games. If you find that you like this sort of interactive storytelling, I’d definitely recommend (besides the rest of Hanako’s catalog) Cinders which is more of a traditional VN with a bunch of different dialogue choices based on the story of Cinderella (only this Cinderella is anything but a passive participant in the story).