UPDATE 09 Nov 2010: Marvel Brothel been taken down for trademark infringement. Chaud has written up his thoughts over on his blog.
UPDATE 18 Nov 2010: I posted an interview with Chaud.
UPDATE 22 Nov 2010: Legal situation is discussed by Girl Gamer, Esq.
UPDATE 19 Dec 2010: To set the internet record straight, I am both father and husband. That is to say, not a woman. Sorry if you were looking for a woman's words on a brothel game although there is an anonymous comment below that provides a quick opinion of that sort. Other than that, Happy Christmas!
Superhero brothel sims are pretty thin on the ground. So thank ye Gods that Brazilian developer Nicolau Chaud released Marvel Brothel way back in January. Possibly the most unique game I have played all year, a promising contender for Crown of Weird 2010.
Chaud used RPG Maker 2003 to create a brothel sim in JRPG format, attempting to improve upon another game: Hentai Brothel Sim. Hentai Brothel Sim is a clumsy mixture of punishing text-laden interface with pornographic hentai art; reduced to its fundamentals, it's a game that rewards masochistic play with sexual imagery. In contrast, Marvel Brothel is light-hearted and barely makes it to the soft porn category - it's unlikely to get anyone crafting with their wood.
The story goes that Professor Xavier has decided that violence isn't the best way to convince humans to love their mutant brethren. It is love that begets love. So the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning is converted into the Xavier House of Marvel Girls. And, of course, his former students are eager to take part in this new enterprise, although Gambit is bemused. Not one of his girls, not a one, has an issue with working in the Xavier brothel. Not even the ones you can "liberate" from being slaves later in the game.
At its heart Marvel Brothel is a business sim. Each day is broken into two phases.
In the management phase, you try to optimise the prices and abilities of the girls, decide who is going to work for the day and also spend money on upgrading your establishment. Your primary goal is to maximise daily revenue.
In the action phase, the brothel opens for business. You have to match clients to appropriate girls. A girl must have the stamina and kinkiness to meet her client's requirements... and not be too pricey for his wallet. Certain clients have "special needs" which are sometimes obvious in terms of who can fulfil them but other times can leave you scratching your head. There's a clever depth here which will make your brain churn out all sorts of strategies on how to maximise turnover.
Criminal mastermind Kingpin drops by from time to time to judge your establishment. On these days, your focus is on a rapid turnover of clients rather than revenue, as Kingpin will promote your brothel to a higher star rating if he feels the place is popular. Apparently there is some sort of accreditation in the flesh trade, complete with star ratings.
When you're dealing with just the three girls you start out with - Storm, Jubilee and Rogue - it's fairly easy to manage especially as Rogue can't have sex with a client. During this early stage, the five minutes you're allotted for the brothel business day is far too much time and the girls tire quickly. Once the brothel has expanded and you've increased the number of girls, things really start getting complicated. Panicky and twitchy kind of complicated.
Marvel Brothel is a wonderful example of a game that really puts you into the role. To my utter and complete shame I saw the girls as assets not individuals. I even fired Rogue for not bringing in any cash, dismissing her final plea of "there are other things I can do!". That's what this game does to the player: it'll turn you into a male chauvinist even if you're a woman. As the timer heads into the final minute, desperation takes over as you strive to squeeze a few more clients through the brothel pipeline. The extra cash might make all the difference to subsequent days.
Here's an example of the thoughts this game puts in my head: Okay, what does guy want? "I wanna fuck a black chick" Aaargh, Storm is still busy with her last client. Hurry up already! Hello? Wham bam thank you Mam, NEXT!
Marvel Brothel won me over. It's outrageous, taking established superheroes and turning them into WHORES AND PIMPS AND KERB CRAWLERS. But the big surprise is that it's not a joke game: no, it's a bloody real one. You're always wondering which Marvel character is going to burst into the plot next - and for what reason. Tutorial aside, the dialogue is fairly lean, compared with something like Recettear. It's not played for laughs, which makes the humour of this bizarre setup more appealing. I just love the fact that every time you speak to Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, she says: "What? What are you looking at?"
And the final challenge is an orgy to save the world from destruction. No lie.
Being a small game written by a single developer, it's not perfect. While the confused panic of trying to match girls with clients and forcing you to remember stats is deliberate... it really takes too long reviewing your girls during the management phase. A few bugs exist which you are bound to run into now and then, and the game even crashed on me once. Aside from that god damn bastard Green Goblin, its worst design sin is the final day challenge which you will fail unless you've spent many game days preparing for it explicitly.
Although great pains have been taken to emulate the real Marvel characters (see the full cast of characters), "wanna" turns up far too much in the dialogue and Xavier is a bit too "quite" and "indeed". But the dialogue is still commendable because it's ram-raid short, in and out.
Marvel Brothel was intended for a game-making contest but I still reel from the mountain of dedication that Chaud put into this game. Just don't tell Kieron Gillen about this as his paymasters will torture him until he gives up the location of the download.
Post-game buzz: Superheroes turned superwhores is fun. And we're all going to Hell for playing this.
Still want more? You might also be interested in Chaud's excellent game about torture, Beautiful Escape. Or maybe an interview? If all else fails, there is also his work-in-progress sex game, Polymorphous Perversity.