PC, Nintendo Switch
August 27, 2020
You’ve been visited by the Dog Wizard. You are tempted, nay, compelled, to pack up your life and move to the queerest city you can find and adopt a gorgeous puppy. You will meet a bunch of dog-obsessed human hotties, and make passionate love to some of them. And you will be able to afford your own apartment despite being a funemployed artist. Yes, it’s the millennial dream – and in New Zealand developer Starcolt’s Best Friend Forever, it is your reality.
Best Friend Forever is a romance game for the discerning dog lover. Part dating sim and part pet care simulator, it won over hearts and tails with its energetic announcement trailer last year starring outspoken shiba inu Cheeseball. Does the game’s bark live up to its bite? Well, mostly!
Set in the fictional utopia Rainbow Bay, Best Friend Forever places you in the role of an emerging photographer who’s brand new in town. Of course, Rainbow Bay is renowned for being incredibly dog-friendly, so your first priority is rushing to the local adoption centre and picking out a canine companion of your own. There are four adorable puppers to choose from, each with their own unique history and personality. You will love them all. It’s so hard to choose. Starcolt’s creative director Lucy Morris explained a little about why these particular dogs were chosen for the game, saying “we’ve tried to avoid putting in ‘boutique breeds’… and done our best to shine a light on the benefits of adopting dogs with a range of personalities, strengths, and challenges.”
Once you’ve picked your pup they will accompany you throughout your various adventures around Rainbow Bay, sitting happily to the right of the screen and living their best doggy life. At random intervals, you’ll be prompted to give your doggo lots of pats to calm them down, or quickly throw its poop into a bin. It’s clear what Best Friend Forever is attempting with these dog-related quicktime events, and while it does its best to add some diversity to an otherwise straightforward graphic novel, occasionally it toes the line of annoyance – particularly as there are only four different events that can occur at random, usually unrelated to the current situation.
To be clear, you do not date the dogs. The pet care and the dating are mostly separate elements, although every romanceable character does also have a super sweet Best Friend. You’ll instead be pursuing a diverse cast of strong personalities, each with their own existing relationships, history, and story arc. Each in-game week you log into the “Woofr” app and meet up with other dog owners for chats, dates, and special events. At the week’s end, you pick a bunch of activities to do with your dog (such as getting a Puppercino together, or doing a doggy fashion shoot) which raises your dog’s “stats” like sociability, fitness, and smarts. You then go through a Nintendogs-style care scene where you feed and clean your dog depending on its needs, before jumping into a new week.
Most of Best Friend Forever is spent navigating the social climate of Rainbow Bay and flirting with your new pals. There’s a little bit of gamification when it comes to caring for your puptastic pupperino with the vague end goal of raising your partner’s stats in order to top the class at puppy school – however, there’s not really enough depth to this system to make it worth getting into. While I enjoyed the hands-on interactivity of petting my pup Boulder and washing him down with the hose, I would have liked these interactions to have more of an impact on gameplay.
I cannot stress enough just how boldy, unashamedly, unabashedly queer Best Friend Forever is. It’s an absolute delight to jump into a game that celebrates queer and gender diverse communities in such an overt way, right down to the rainbow flag in the background of almost every scene. You choose your pronouns, and absolutely everyone is romanceable (and incredibly thirsty). This game was made for us and about us, and I love the developers for it. I was super impressed with the subtle teachable moments peppered throughout the story: for example, a character explains what it means for them to be “out” as trans while pointing out that everyone’s experience is different, and it feels entirely natural.
Presentation-wise, the character portraits are nicely done and animated just enough to feel alive. Environments are colourful and pretty, capturing the sunny San Francisco-vibe of Rainbow Bay. The mise en scene of your main character’s apartment has such a nostalgic Tumblr aesthetic: big “fairy lights and watching movies on a laptop” mood. The dogs are also full of personality and the simplicity of their facial design makes them cartoonishly cute.
“The absolute star of Best Friend Forever is its killer writing.”
However, the absolute star of Best Friend Forever is its killer writing. What could have easily been a forgettable dog-themed Dream Daddy tribute is utterly transformed by fast-paced dialogue, witty banter, and a sense of humour that made me ugly-cry with laughter. More than once I grabbed my long-suffering boyfriend and made him read the silly, pointed, highly niche jokes. The romance scenes are also virtuosic in their execution – playful, diverse, and at times really hot. I slept with regal hunk Anders on our very first date and I have Z E R O regrets.
It’s worth mentioning that Best Friend Forever is a short experience. My first playthrough took around three hours, which felt like just the right length: long enough for the narrative to wrap up, without the repetition growing stale. With the various characters to date and multiple possible endings it seems well designed for multiple play sessions. It would also make for a fantastic streaming game due to the many narrative directions and quick playtime.
- Funny, sharp, and incredibly satisfying writing
- An exquisite celebration of queerness
- Short and sweet: doesn’t overstay its welcome
- Lack of depth as a dog-raising simulator
- Use of quicktime events does not always feel natural
For any queer person who loves dogs, millennial who loves dogs, or actual dog masquerading as a human, Best Friend Forever is a wholesome, cathartic experience. It lets you live out your fantasies of dog ownership without any of the downsides, and has you lusting after a number of beautifully written characters to boot. While I would have liked more significant interaction with my beloved canine adoptee, I thoroughly enjoyed my little adventure in Best Friend Forever’s fabulous Rainbow Bay.