Review: Onsen Master

I’m a sucker for management games, and I’ve been waiting for the locally developed Onsen Master since I first saw it at (where and how long ago?). I was super hyped to finally get a hold of the released version of Onsen Master, but it’s a little rough around the edges.

Onsen Master is a time management game where you play as a boy named Mu who is tasked with operating a traditional Japanese bathhouse. Customers come in wanting specific types of onsen baths, and you have to prepare those baths for them before they get impatient and seek soaking elsewhere. It has a unique eastern theme that makes it stand apart, and that theme is used well across the multiple different styles of onsens Mu has to work in. There are even boss encounters to cap each set of levels. But Onsen Master suffers from some serious jank and a few issues that make playing it not as fun as it could be.

Screenshot: Onsen Master

Your goal in Onsen Master is to keep your customers happy. There are four baths set around each level, with six ingredients you’ll have to use to keep the customers happy. Each set of levels usually has its own set of hazards to overcome, like flooding, tricky terrain, or even pesky spirits. On paper, it sounds great, but mechanically it just doesn’t hold up.

Actually playing Onsen Master feels a little loose and floaty. Not only is there a floaty feeling while moving, but I’d also frequently get stuck in the environment, and at least twice that made me have to restart the entire level. Similarly, picking up ingredients can feel a little awkward, and if you drop an ingredient, it despawns after a few seconds.

Screenshot: Onsen Master

The levels themselves are attractive, but not without problems. Besides the aforementioned tendency to get stuck, sometimes the levels themselves are set up in a way that makes gameplay a little more pesky–and not in a fun way. For instance, in the first set of levels some of the onsen ingredients are blurred. In addition, some of the level obstacles–from annoying NPCs to falling rocks–are downright frustrating.

One of my biggest complaints about Onsen Master is its sound. The music, by default, drowns out most of the sound effects. In fact, I didn’t even realize there were sound effects until I turned the music volume to zero. But while there are sounds of grinding ingredients, splashing water, footsteps, etc. there are no sounds that benefit the player from a gameplay perspective. No alarms, no warnings, no sound cues when a boss enters the bath.

Onsen Master could have been great, but it never lived up to its potential. It has some great ideas and a unique setting that helps to set it apart from the heaps of time management games out there, but it fails to be mechanically satisfying, and is downright frustrating at times.

Onsen Master is available now on Steam.

Antal Bokor
Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian.
He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.

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