Not a whole drink—just a few sips
The Game Boy Advance is probably my favorite piece of video game hardware—I have, in the past, described it as a timeless piece of technology, and I firmly believe that people should develop for it forever. Thankfully, a thriving handful of independent developers appear to agree with me, and Game Boy Advance games are still being made. The most recent one of these to catch my eye is a delightfully charming idle business management sim called Sips.
Sips, developed by Jono Shields, is an incredibly simple little project. There’s only one screen, and all it shows is a chilled-out coffee shop. When you press A, a menu full of possible upgrades comes up. There are only nine possible upgrades, and in traditional idle fashion, buying one means the money will start flowing into your little business a bit faster, freeing you up to spend more money.
Why do I love this?
There’s really not much “game” behind Sips. The project was developed as a part of the GBA Winter Jam ’23, a game jam focused on title screens. As an aside, I adore the idea of a GBA-focused game jam; while Nintendo is finally offering GBA games on the Switch, I still feel like the console’s abnormally short lifespan left it with an unfairly small library.
Anyway, because of the theme of this specific jam, a lot of energy has gone into making Sips into a functioning single screen, and mechanical complexity has been pushed to the background. It is, by design, a title screen with a game incidentally attached.
But damn it, that incidental game is good. Again, it’s not complicated, and it’s very small (I maxed out my upgrades in the space of an hour before restarting it), but it just feels nice. I’ve been an idle game fan for years, and so many of these games are focused on sapping your time that it’s really pleasant to see one that gets out of your way so quickly. There’s no prestige mechanic, no complex and layered currency exchange system. There’s just buying and waiting, and once you’re done buying and waiting, there’s walking away. It doesn’t sound revolutionary, but for a genre so defined by bloat, it’s incredibly refreshing.
Oh, and vibing
Of course, this vaguely game-ish title screen is also very good at being a title screen. It’s designed to emulate the vibe of hanging out in a cool independent coffee shop, the kind that has a whole bunch of houseplants and a cat. As someone who lives on a college campus, surrounded by actual coffee shops of that exact stripe, I can comfortably confirm that Sips captures that energy perfectly. And as someone who abhors coffee, I can also confirm that I like Sips more than I like going to actual coffee shops. The musical loop is as calming as a barely-overpriced mug of chai tea, and the pixel art is exactly the kind of Game Boy Advance visual work that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I like the game a lot as a lightweight diversion from heavier offerings, and I like it as a novel reminder that people are still working with a wonderful piece of defunct hardware, but I think its greatest strength is as an unassuming piece of lightly interactive art. The game itself is free, but for $2, you can get a version that trims away the already minimal UI and acts solely as a title screen for an imaginary game. If the Advance Wars remake is finally about to make your GBA obsolete and you’ve got a flash cart laying around, I can see Sips turning your old handheld into a tiny conversation piece.
You can also, of course, load it up on an emulator and simply vibe with it. The novelty of the “title screen” is a little lost in that format, but the game itself makes for a nice digital toy, a minimally distracting background buddy to keep you company while you finish some productive task you’d rather not do. Sips is the sort of unflashy mini-project that charms your socks off but frequently gets lost in the wash of game jam submissions. It’s the type of game that doesn’t set out to reinvent any wheels, or even to stand out in its genre. It’s just a good time with no pretensions. I’m always a little saddened by how many miniature indie projects like this I miss out on every day, but I’m glad I happened upon Sips.