Sprung: The dating sim that has aged like fine wine?

Well, not really. Sprung is a bizarre, long forgotten launch title for the Nintendo DS that was released back in 2004. It was developed by good old Ubisoft, and as a Western visual novel styled dating sim, you can probably guess how its teen targeted set up is like before even venturing into the game. But be prepared for the best part of Sprung; the dialogue has most certainly aged brilliantly. It is well worth experiencing even now in 2020 for its hilarity and encapsulation of TV drama and rom-com scripts of its time.

Its rom-com influences are noticeable just by merely giving its synopsis a quick read. Players pick either Brett or Becky to play as with differing story-lines. The objective of the game is to successfully romance different characters during “missions”. The entire game is set in a ski resort, owned by a mutual friend of theirs named Conor. Conor is one of two big shots currently at the inn, with the other being Elliot who are both more popular and wealthy compared to Brett. While Brett wants to show his dominance in being more successful in love over Conor and Elliot, Becky is struggling with her modelling career by being contracted by Elliot to date him for a possible place in the career as she comes to terms with her uncertain love life. It’s an easy to get into scenario, and offers plenty of hilarious and awkward events in the pursuit of love in our youth, and sometimes even has a hand in indicating to players what they should and shouldn’t do in dating. Just don’t take it too seriously!

From Crush to Sprung

Originally titled as Crush in early development, the game we received as Sprung is often regarded more as an adventure game due to its linear plot and particular humor similar to the Broken Sword games. In fact the now dissolved French studio Guillemot, Inc. was indicative to such adventure game roots with the noticeable European artstyle with the character portraits and designs. The design is no surprise for its time, and when we do consider the year 2004 when the title released it was a well-known fact that dating sim games were thriving in Japan (just see Tokimeki Memorial popularity since 19 ) but had much less coverage or acceptance in the West.

Sprung was already an oddity to even exist and manage to release. It was developed in only 5 months by a mostly inexperienced team and suffered from many setbacks due to limitations of audio assets. Ubisoft happened to be one example of a developer who tested the waters to gauge the level of interest in the dating sim market in America specifically thanks to the creation of this little oddity. The title was aimed at older players yet it was released exclusively for Nintendo’s new handheld system at a time where Nintendo were firstly seen as the kid friendly company. Funnily enough the title was even rated too low for its material involving lines of dialogue directly referencing drugs, sex and even cussing. This was due to its 50,000+ dialogue lines not being thoroughly checked as possibly an overlook from the established guidelines unlike today’s that would not miss such material now that visual novels are more commonly accepted and seen in the West.

The situation for when it came out and as a bizarre, experimental launch title for the DS made for an expected lukewarm and even negative response, and that’s not even taking into consideration how weak its characters and gameplay did end up being (in which we will get into). But when we consider how far the OELVN (Original English Language Visual Novel) genre has come, with truly brilliant story-lines and characters found in titles such as Arcade Spirits, I feel we should – at the very least – give props to those who tried to give the niche genre a chance well over a decade ago.

A hidden gem?

Colleen McGuiness provided the script of Sprung, whose works involve episode scripts in the soap opera North Shore, Tina Fey’s 30 Rock and the sitcom About a Boy. Most of these, if not all involve drama, with Sprung adopting such story-lines which shapes the game as a typical teen movie plot now turned interactive. And as an early product in the Nintendo DS’ lifespan, the title both failed to make any use of the handheld’s exclusive features, from its touch screen to the duel screens, and is barely a visual novel in its format.

Each chapter is a mission with one goal in particular to carry out, and by your dialogue selections it can either help or hinder you finishing your task for the plot to progress. If the dialogue selected is not doing you any favours, the game over screen is quick to intervene. On the other hand, some selections are actually a secret “Golden Line” that opens up a new branch in the story. However, there is almost always only one outcome of every mission despite these other paths in the dialogue tree, making the title linear despite its visual novel style. But considering it was such an early entry in the DS’ library which was experimental, I can ignore this, but if I have one major nitpick, it’s in the characters.

The plethora of characters, from friends to love interests and even the main characters are all one note and stereotypes, such as the nerd types to the jocks with very little depth or other characteristics despite many of them having their own backstories. On the other hand, the tropes encapsulates the cheesy and dramatic TV shows its script hearkens back to, and is the reason why I enjoy it so much to this day. The back-and-forth conversations that run rampant in each and every scene of the game involves amazing lines such as “So are you gonna tell me your name, or am I going to have to steal your wallet?” to “How ’bout calling me ‘out of your league?'”. The script of Sprung truly delivers iconic, golden lines worth stumbling on with McGuiness’ humor being the best part of the title, no matter how aged some references have become.

Mindless fun

Sprung is at least cheap to obtain physically, and as a physical visual novel option, it’s well worth any dating sim enthusiastic to add it to their collection to bulk it up. And if you are the target audience of the title, then you will be getting the most out of the game. But even for those who are older, if you can handle such a chick flick/rom-com of a plot, its surprise comedic lines that just… spring up, shall we say, are well worth discovering for the small investment.

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Lilia Hellal
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