The joy of being able to review games is that there are times when you get to experience genres and themes that you would never normally pick up. You see, the vast majority of players concentrate on familiar patterns, themes, and subject matters; stories which mostly involve a hero’s quest, and how you are the chosen one looking to vanquish some hidden evil. Then there are games like Later Daters; games which throw you a curveball. You see, here you are an eighty-year-old who enters a retirement home, left to try and get it on with the other residents. Nope, I guarantee you won’t have played anything like it. Yet it is that which makes this a tiny bit special, and a very heartwarming adventure.
The Toronto-based Bloom Digital Media behind Later Daters has a reputation for creating games for “underserved gamers”, and this certainly fits the bill. Described as a sexy senior dating sim, the game is actually one that consists of quite a nice story about old age and companionship in the latter days of our lives.
Upon first dropping in to Later Daters you will find that you get to choose the look of your character, and their personality, from a small selection of choices. You also get to choose a pet companion to share the story with, from a selection of animals, and of course you’ll want to choose the dog. From there you discover that your character and your pet companion have got to a point in life where you need more support and so enter Ye OLDE retirement home for an easier life. Or so you think.
It’s here where both of you settle into retirement living, meeting a wide range of residents and workers at the home. Poker is being played, hijinks are a regular occurrence, yet most of all love is on the cards for everyone. The story and narrative threads are the main thrust of the game as they explore interesting plots and three-dimensional characters from an ageing rockstar to an elegant poker player. These relationships you foster always feel real, coming across as heartwarming with some lovely writing and entertaining storylines. There’s one specific sequence where all the elders have some ‘special drugged cheese’, with Later Daters swapping out the real with a sort of erotic space fantasy in a dream sequence.
The game also deals brilliantly well with tougher topics – death, ageing, dementia, sex, and love as you get older, shying away from stereotypical roles. It’s clever and certainly made me think about how I view older people.
The gameplay itself is more of limited appeal, but if you are into your narrative adventures, it could well be perfect. You are basically left to involve yourself in different dialogue tree paths, deciding where to go next, which in turn affects the narrative and the relationships you form. Each day at the care home is separated out like a chapter and deals with a different storyline or event.
Later Daters employs a visual design that makes the most of hand-drawn animation that is static, but complete with tiny movement in the animation. The art design itself is very appealing, beautifully drawn and coloured. The characters are great too, with a nice mix of models who are always likeable and attractive. The sound design accompanies things well, working a great, catchy theme that you’ll find yourself humming along to. In that regard, it does its job. The rest of the soundtrack is excellent with some original music and lyrics featuring the character of Jax the ageing rock star.
Yes, the gameplay on offer is quite limited and if you’re after some action then you might be seriously disappointed. There is a lot of reading to take in too, and that might put some off. Strangely there is even the option to skip through conversations, moving straight to the next decision, yet do this and you miss the main thrust of the game. Stick with it though and Later Daters turns out to be refreshing and entertaining.
This is a game that surprised me with its content and themes. I’ve never played a game like Later Daters, and the whole concept of an elderly dating sim is something I wouldn’t have thought anyone would be thinking about creating or playing. But the development team have managed to make something that isn’t a dating sim, but a narrative adventure that focuses on being old; ridding the stereotypes that affect it. The game isn’t afraid to deal with some hard subjects – and some taboo ones – and it’ll certainly make you open your eyes and think about matters a little more.
Later Daters tackles the stranger side of love on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One