Universe For Sale is a very topical, sci-fi tear-jerker

Posted on November 19, 2023

Universe For Sale is part point-and-click game and part visual novel with heart that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Created by Italian indie dev team Tmesis Studio and published by Akupara Games, Universe For Sale tells the story of a young woman named Lila who can create universes in her hand. There’s also Master, a skeletal cultist who appears to be in the dark as much as you are, but who might know a lot more than he’s letting on.

Initially, you play as Master, who has a meeting with Lila. Except, he never planned it. Worse, he doesn’t even know who she is. But she knows you. Are you confused? Good! That’s the point. But you’re not only trying to unravel your meetings with Lila, you’re also trying to figure out when you meet. This is likely to be a bit hit or miss for some, but it’s a distinctive way to show passages of time and the character’s relationship in each vignette. The game alternates between playing as Master and Lila. Lila’s sections are broken up by shopping for items for her home and earning money by creating universes for people. It’s such an interesting mini-game, though sometimes it’s difficult to understand a lot of the customer’s requests. Some are simple, such as asking for an orange universe, but other times you’ll get something more philosophical in scope. That’s customer service for you!

The story is interspersed with a younger version of Lila, whose mother is reading her a bedtime story. The bedtime story explains a bit of the world, the relationship between Lila and her parents, and… well… spoilers! Even with that said, the world-building isn’t info-dumped onto you. Instead, you’ll receive this information via comments and dialogue between characters. One of the more interesting points (and what feels rather contemporary) is that we’re not on Earth at all. Universe For Sale takes place on a space station in the clouds around Jupiter. In lieu of fixing up Earth, humans have decided that it’d be a better idea to move and ruin a different planet.as

Universe For Sale’s art is gorgeous. It’s absolutely to die for. The game has hand-drawn animation, which makes sense, considering that the artwork creator is from the European comic underground. The 2D art style lends itself to the atmosphere of the game. It’s unique, especially regarding characters. There are, of course, humans, but throughout your travels, you meet talking orangutans, robots and fellow cultists. The cultists all have varied designs compared to the other religious group whose appearance feels more uniform. The cultists believe in cutting body parts (which still work after detachment), helping them reach enlightenment. Master is not only a walking skeleton, but he has his neck sliced. There is also a quick mini-game where you slice parts off a cultist’s body. There’s nothing visually graphic in this, but the actions and sound design are unnerving. Which… is probably the point of them.

The game doesn’t have many bugs or glitches. Sometimes some character portraits disappear for a brief moment before reappearing once you’ve clicked for their next bit of dialogue. Other small gripes I had were that sometimes the registration of mouse clicks were rather slow. I also wished that there was a way to view previous dialogue, which is a bit of a staple in the visual novel landscape. Along with that, while the game doesn’t necessarily need it, there aren’t many accessibility options. Though, Tmesis is a studio of 3-people, so it’s understandable. But do remember that if you’re going into this game with specific accessibility needs.

Universe For Sale is a really cute and interesting story. It’s a short game, which is great for those of us who can’t play 100-hour-long games anymore. It has a fantastic narrative that will gag you when you figure it out. And considering that this is the debut game of Tmesis Studios, I’m really excited to see where they go next. The full game is out now on Windows and Mac via Steam, but if you’re on the fence about it, they do have a prologue demo that you can get for free via Steam and Itch.io. So give it a try, make a universe, or create some new memories!