Cart Life: Not Only About Carts

Some time ago I stumbled upon a small Steam offer for a game called Cart Life. I was hungry, at the time, for a decent Economic Simulation and when the promise was that of playing a Cart Vendor, dealing in prices, supply and production, I was sold. What sold this game for me at this early stage was the price and it’s intriguing Indie look. I do not care about graphics at all, as long as they are functional or in some way eye catching. If we were to take a Triple-A release and compare it to Cart Life nobody would most likely take it seriously. I did, and after playing just fifteen minutes of this game I knew I hit a jackpot. Cart Life is not just a game about running your own Business. It’s about life, in an almost brutal nightmarish sense. There are reasons for that and I will explain them in as much details as plausible.

Cart Life

Not just about Carts but personal hygiene as well.

Cart Life: Welcome to Reality

In Cart Life you play one of three characters. A single mother, Ukrainian immigrant or an aspiring Bagel Chef. Each one of these characters faces a serious challenge that you, the player, have to achieve. In the case of the Single Mother you have to make a total revenue of a thousand dollars before a court hearing where the custody over your daughter will be decided. The Ukrainian Immigrant looks for a place to call his own, with his cat being his sole companion (rather sad, as it later turns out through his dream sequences). The Bagel Chef is the most “loose” of the characters, since he does not face the levels of drama others are forced to endure. He is still an interesting character on his own and I feel for him.

The back stories, aims and personalities of these characters differ as much as their lines of business. Andrus (the Ukrainian Immigrant) opens up a News Stand. Vinny starts with a food cart, the sort you usually envisage standing on the sidewalk in New York, selling Hot Dogs or Bagels. Meanwhile Melanie (the single Mother) opens a small Coffee stand. As I found with playing Andrus focusing on just your main product does not cut it. When I managed Andrus’ News Stand aside from daily newspapers I ended up also selling soft drinks, coffee and tea. Later on when Andrus interacts with different characters I chose to complain how the people of today do not read papers anymore, instead buying only food or drinks. You can choose what your character says but not every single talk has any influence on later gameplay. Some meetings did make me arch my brow. Going back to the example of Newspapers one of Andrus’ first clients will be a man whom I labeled, “The Most Annoying Man in the Universe”. Not only did he NEVER buy anything but kept on asking for change, the time, and whenever you would just suggest that he might buy something he would huff up and leave.

From a business simulation standpoint you have a lot of freedom. You go to a Super Mart (or a different store) to buy your goods, or raw materials. You upgrade your Cart in order to produce or sell more expensive products. You can even offer special deals on some products, such as selling a Peanut Butter and Jelly Bagel instead of just a plain Bagel, for a higher price. The product information screens give you a lot of details on how much did your specific goods cost you, how much profit will you make, and how much overall profit you already made from the sales. At the end of each day you can review what sold the most and you may choose to adjust your prices a bit for your next day (customers do not react to sudden prices changes dramatically, yet). In the case of Vinny you have a lot of background work. You have to prepare some of your foods and products at home, while Melanie and Andrus make everything on the spot. There is honestly more but trying to explain everything will not make the experience any easier, this game is hard.

Cart Life

When you set your prices you do not only calculate profits, but also how much trouble will you have with handing out change (you will see what I mean once you try it).

The difficulty does not come just from the economic standpoint. There is a brief introduction for each character where you can get your head around the crude basics, but in order to win you have to work our the game from the bottom up. This is not a game you will “win” on your first try, far from it. When I first played as Andrus and failed I decided to play as one of the other characters. When I then spoke with Andrus (you can speak with the other characters in game) I noticed he was selling Tea, Coffee and Soft Drinks. So I naturally did the same during my next attempt and it paid off. You also have no idea where everything is. There is a lot of Trial and Error and the game rarely tells you what you should or must do, it’s all entirely up to you. That is what I admire so much about it.

At the same time the day to day difficulties of these different characters also got my head spinning. Andrus is staying with his cat in a hotel room where pets are not allowed, and is addicted to nicotine. Melanie should take her daughter to and from school every day, where each such walk offers a short cutscene/dialogue. Vinny is lacking somewhat in this area but I did not play with his as much as with the other characters (although he does love his coffee). What I did notice is how each character reacts differently to different NPCs. Andrus will have talks with the Bartender and Shop Owner Downtown, Vinny will talk to a Pizzeria Cashier and Melanie will have a lot to talk about with her Sister and Daughter.

What Steam did not tell me is that this game is actually free. I feel I was tricked but I forgave Steam, because this game is well worth supporting. There are different payment options and the one on Steam gives access to Vinny (normally it is only Melanie and Andrus) as well as a Soundtrack and free game (that I did not try yet). The Music is very much electronic but it fits the graphic style of the game perfectly.

Cart Life

One of the many, many reasons I never became a smoker.

I would like to give this game a score but I feel that it is far more than just “a game”. For me it was also a Social Commentary and that sets it above being just “a game”. Granted, it has all the elements of the game but at the same time it is so much more. If you want to give the game a try check out the official Cart Life site. The only warning I will give is that the game suffers from Bugs. Speak out on the forums to help the creator fix them (as he diligently patches the game to make it bug free). Oh… and you need to be a quick and accurate typist… And you must pay attention to what people tell you… There is no Journal for you to look back at. Last word of advice? Do some wrist exercises before you jump into this game. Even I got exhausted from playing it, and I enjoy typing.

Alex “WriterX” Bielski

About The Author

Aleksander "WriterX" Bielski
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Student of Psychology, he was identified as a Nut-Job even before he started the course. Having done some small work as a Modder for a number of titles, and worked as a Game Designer part-time, Alex now writes in third person. As Co-Owner and Editor of AlterGamer.com he aims high, while being armed only with a sling. In the future, he hopes to become a fully qualified Newspaper Editor, and purchase Google.

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