Bar Oasis: When Mediocre Usability Doesn’t Really Matter

There are plenty of iOS apps that contain drink recipes, but there are very few games that have you actually making drinks on your phone. Bar Oasis is called a “bartender simulation” by Touch Arcade, which seems pretty accurate. It’s a very story-driven game that I guess would have to live in the simulation genre if I had to put it somewhere. You’re put in the shoes of a bartender, tending to your customers while listening to their problems, and of course, making their drinks.

(brief aside: If you agreed with my article about Ghost Trick having a way-too-long tutorial, this game falls into the same camp – so far I’ve experienced way more dialogue than actual gameplay)

In real life it’s definitely a skill that bartenders have to develop for making good drinks in a hurry, so how does that translate into an iOS game? As you might have guessed, it’s not ideal. There’s potential here, but there are a few quirks that really make it more irritating than it should be. Though at the end of the day, how much do perfectly precise controls really matter if the game is still fun? Let’s discuss…

The good: navigating around the bar

First the good news – navigating around the bar is pretty cool. There are a series of shelves that contain all kinds of bottles of liquor and mixers, so to build a drink, the player first has to collect all the bottles. Most of the bottles have recognizable labels, which is good, though there are a few generic looking bottles that are difficult to identify what they are (that or I need to spend more time in bars!).

While swiping to the left or right will show to various shelves of bottles, swiping down will turn the player around to be facing the customers. And from there, swiping left and right shows the various customers sitting at the bar. This mechanic makes a lot of sense, and really works well for the game – it feels very natural.

The bad: pouring the drinks

Unfortunately, while navigating the bar feels natural, it takes forever. There is a transition between every screen – a slide between pages of shelves, lots of page turning animations, and dialogs that grow onto the screen. It’s sexy to look at, but man does it get annoying. Making a drink isn’t ever a simple process with all the screens that the game throws in the player’s face. I can forgive the game for having a detailed story, because that’s the game’s main draw. For the rest of the menus though, a less is more approach would be really welcome.

A rather important part of a game about making drinks is actually making the drinks, and sadly that doesn’t feel as natural as the bar navigation does.  After selecting all the ingredients from the bar, the player entered into a timed mode where the drink is actually assembled.

Pouring into the darkness

Pouring the drink involves actually tipping the phone on its side, and here’s where things get weird. Check out this screenshot:

The glass is clearly visible before any pouring happens. But as soon as the player turns the phone to the side to start pouring, this is what they get:

The glass is no longer onscreen. How then does one know when the drink is ready? The less precise method is the giant “OK” that flashes on the screen, or you can read the tiny numbers in the upper-left of the screen (3.84/3.00 in this screenshot above) to see how much you’ve poured.

Certainly, having the glass onscreen doesn’t instantly make it easier to tell how much has been poured – it would be super imprecise. But it’s just bizarre that the player doesn’t actually see any part the drink as they are making it, and are just pouring into the offscreen darkness. I totally get why the developers didn’t make the drink “appear” onscreen – I’m sure that would be super difficult to do well – but even a little graphical meter that represented how much had been poured already would be a welcome addition.

Touching the screen instantly stops pouring, which gives the player a chance to rotate the phone back to its original position without overfilling the drink. It’s an imprecise action, and depending on exactly the phone’s orientation, it’s likely that flow won’t completely stop.

Pro bartenders

And just for the record, all that talk about numbers showing how much has been poured? That’s only in “amateur” mode, where the game will tell the player exactly which bottles to put in the drink. “Pro” mode doesn’t show the player how much they have poured, relying on the giant flashing “OK” to stop pouring the drink. It makes it considerably harder, not to mention having to remember what is in each drink recipe!

Conclusion: I don’t think any of this really matters

As described above, the mechanics of pouring a drink are slightly awkward and more than a little imprecise. But then again…isn’t that the whole point? Making cocktails isn’t an exact science, and neither is pouring them virtually on your phone. I usually make quite a mess whenever a shaker is involved, and in that way the game makes a pretty solid representation of my own bartending skills.

Here’s something that’s probably telling about all this – there are few consequences for making a sub-par drink. You might get a slightly less-awesome comment from a customer, or your tip may not be the highest it could be. But as far as I’ve seen, there isn’t a huge incentive for you to make a ton of money, so who really cares? The story will go on regardless.

And that story, in fact, is why you’ll keep playing the game, because it’s quite entertaining. The drink pouring mechanic isn’t perfect, but it’s a great example of being good enough to keep the game fun. If the game punished you for making a drink that it labels “sewage”, then maybe I’d have a bigger beef with it. As it is with life, if you accidentally make a sub-par Margarita, you just move along with your day and try better the next time.

Bar Oasis is a unique game that makes up for its control flaws with a forgiving attitude and an engaging story. I’m not saying it couldn’t be improved – it could – but as is, it’s worth the trip.

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