Details, details, details
As we round the corner on this final week of June, I have to admit that, once again, I really haven’t been all that prideful during Pride. This has become something of an unbreakable trend for me. Over the past few years, it’s been difficult to get in the mood for the month living way out in the sticks as I do, not to mention COVID throwing a wrench into everybody’s plans.
With the world just pretending we’re not in a pandemic anymore, it could have been different this year. I’ve been feeling a lot better about myself over the past few months and, despite the fact the county I live in had to have a three-hour Board of Supervisors meeting to even recognize June as Pride Month, my town was actually going to host a Pride event at our local rodeo grounds with drag queens and everything. Finally, I would have a chance to embrace the culture I’ve been away from for so long.
Unfortunately, the odds were not in my favor. A canceled flight, something that was all too common this month, forced me to move my travel plans up a bit to the very day of that Pride celebration. No drag queen bingo for this gay. Instead, it was off to Michigan for a week before heading back home to blistering sunshine and near triple-digit temperatures. With all of my local options expired and larger events too far to drive to, I’d have to settle for something a little more low-key this Pride, like seducing a couple of muscle daddies in Freezer Pops.
From Brazilian-based developer Male Doll, Freezer Pops is a bara visual novel featuring a muscle twink named Alexandre who, following a string of back luck, is forced to find a way to drum up some extra cash to make rent. Enter freezer pops, those delicious, sugar-laden ice treats you can usually buy in bulk for a few bucks at your local grocery store. In Alexandre’s world, however, you can earn a couple of bucks a piece hawking these treats to tourists at the beach.
It’s admittedly a thin setup for what this game is really about: smashing some hunks. On his first day out trying to sell these snacks, Alexandre crosses paths with two potential beaus: the impossibly muscular Fernando, and Anderson, the older guy with the perfect dad bod. Over a couple of chapters, you’ll get the chance to get to know these guys a bit better while also trying to make ends meet in the surprisingly cutthroat world of freezer pops sales.
Feeling hot, hot, hot
To be clear, I do not have the most expansive history of playing bara visual novels. This is mostly because I hate gaming on my PC, which is the platform most games like this usually call home. I’m just too much of a console/handheld player to change my ways now. Hopefully, that little issue will be solved when I get a Steam Deck next year. But for now, I’ll have to settle for whatever crumbs we get over on consoles.
It’s funny, given some of the games I’ve reviewed on Switch, that I’d still be shocked Nintendo would even allow a gay game like this on its flagship console. I guess part of my brain is still comfortably back in the early ‘90s when Nintendo of America wouldn’t even allow crosses to appear in any game published on its hardware. So when I read about Freezer Pops making the jump from Steam to Switch, I jumped at the opportunity to expand my horizons a bit.
Coming into this game, I really only had one point of reference to compare it to. Several years ago, hooked by the promise of some explicit images, I bought Coming Out On Top for my old Mac Mini. That game, with its tight script, sexy artwork, and branching narrative paths, has become the bell cow by which I measure all other gay visual novels. Now, I know that Nintendo would never allow the type of imagery available in that game on any of its hardware, but I’m happy to say Male Doll gets pretty sensational with its not-too-graphic artwork.
As Alexandre pursues his business and romantic goals, he’ll have a couple of opportunities to get some saucy one-on-one time with the guys. Sometimes it’s real, sometimes it’s all in his head. The artists at Male Doll did a pretty exquisite job with these scenes. Sure, some of the art throughout the game looks incomplete or features strange depictions of everyday items — is that supposed to be a car? — but it looks good where it counts.
Too much yadda-yadda-yadda
The only problem with Freezer Pops is there isn’t enough art. For too much of the game, you’ll be staring at the same still image for several minutes as the story plays out. That’s fine when you’re looking at Alexandre and Fernando going at it, not so much when you’re left staring endlessly at Anderson’s door. While this is a visual novel, it feels as though the developers wrote it as if it were a text-based game. Maybe I’m out of the loop on how visual novels are created these days, but Freezer Pops is wildly over-written. Alexandre narrates every thought that pops into his head like somebody desperately needing attention logging into Twitter for the first time. Every little action, from picking up a remote control to washing a dish, is spelled out with unnecessary detail.
It’s also uneven in its tone and execution. A b plot featuring a rival freezer pops seller feels out of the place with the rest of the story, interrupting this pretty light narrative with some unnecessary darkness. Alexandre himself has a few moments of frustration where he lashes out with a sailor’s mouth that, again, doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the experience.
Maybe it’s more eloquent in Portuguese, which is the only other language option available, but the translation to English is pretty rough and robotic. I don’t want to say that the entire script was run through Google Translate without any additional tweaking, but it’s hard not to think, reading the words “He got out of the mattress,” that the developers didn’t just rely on some piece of software to get the job done.
As awkward as most of the script’s translation is, the one place where the need to over-describe everything becomes a strong point for the game is with its sex scenes. Because Male Doll can’t show anything too explicit, it relies on the written word to conjure up images of what’s happening. Going into the first explicit scene I encounter, a dream sequence between Alexandre and Anderson, I worried the writing would be as unexceptional as the rest of the game. To my surprise, it was so detailed in describing their actions that it was kind of hard not to get a little hot under the collar.
Back in my late 20s, rather than look at images on the web, I would go down to the local Barnes & Noble and pick up anthologies of gay erotica. The writing in those books was far more explicit than anything I could imagine at that time, but with those well-written and edited stories, I could picture in my mind everything that was happening. Going through Freezer Pops’ first sexy scene and each one after, memories of those old books rushed back into my head because of how succinctly written the actions of Alexandre and his hot guys were. Most, if not all, of the stories from those anthologies, were written natively in English, and here is something I assume was originally written in Portuguese that sounded exactly like those books.
And in my best Carrie Bradshaw voice, I couldn’t help but wonder, is sex the universal language? Did L. L. Zamenhof waste the best years of his life trying to convince people to speak Esperanto when he should have been teaching the world Esexeranto? And also, does it feel a little dirty to read the word “cum” on my Nintendo Switch?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that Freezer Pops is a decidedly okay game. It’s pretty short, with only a few sections that require player input and very few branching paths to the story. The music also repeats ad nauseam, and some sound effects can come out of nowhere to give players a jump scare. And while I can commend the game for addressing issues like unexpected kink and disappointing sexual encounters that prevent the story from becoming too vanilla, I do wish the developers at Male Doll would have created more artwork to keep the whole experience a bit more lively and a bit more fresh. Or at least hired an editor or translator to give the script the polish it needs.
All of that said, I’m glad eastasiasoft gave this game a chance by porting it to Switch. I can only hope that going forward, LGBTQ+ players will get to see more bara visual novels available on the Nintendo eShop.
[This impressions piece is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]