Alchemist: The Potion Monger review

It isn’t clear where the recent trend of potion brewing-based games began, but we’d wager it’s a combination of Harry Potter reaching a new generation and the popularity of the Magic Mixies toy line – which may also explain The Potion Monger’s bright purple cauldron. It seems that the developers behind this unique genre are in competition with one another too, with The Potion Monger proudly boasting that it’s one of the few games to let you explore the lab’s surroundings and use potions as and when they’re needed. Or just for fun, with potential here for tomfoolery.   

Viewed in first-person and featuring a UI not dissimilar to Minecraft – using LB/RB to navigate the on-screen toolbar – the premise is that you’re the new alchemist in town, out to seek fame and fortune in a world populated by humanoid animals. A canine market trader welcomes you in, offering a health potion as a gift, leading into the brewing tutorial. You’re then free to explore the farmlands, caves, towns, and sandy shores nearby while picking up quests and gathering natural resources such as plants, foodstuffs, and crystals.

Alchemist: The Potion Monger review

Completing quests boosts your reputation, which in turn expands the amount of items purchasable at the market, and at some point you’ll need a new potion – such as a boosted jump – to explore further. Only by exploring the world fully that the elemental table can be completed 100%, with potions falling into Earth, Fire, Air, and Water categories. Your loyal pets, including a Shiba Inu, will help categorise and identify items found.

Combat plays a part too, with the occasional enemy encounter (starting with ominous blobs of green slime) and bosses to slay. This means you’ll need to keep a stock of health and strength potions, in addition to carrying a sword – forged by the local blacksmith. If you fall in battle you’re merely teleported back to your homestead, and (pleasingly) no items are dropped upon death. Teleports make traversing the world relatively straightforward, and there’s a map that shows quest locations too. Quest descriptions can be vague, however.

The potion brewing aspect is the game’s backbone, unsurprisingly. Potions can only be brewed back at your home, and involve grinding, drying out and distilling foraged resources before placing them in the cauldron and playing a brief button-matching mini game. After brewing the same potion a few times over, an ‘auto brew’ option unlocks, which speeds up the creation of vital potions significantly. You’ll need to purchase or find potion scrolls to discover formulas or resort to experimentation – something I didn’t have much luck with. It also doesn’t help that the icon-driven interface is often cryptic, with the idea being to ‘pin’ a formula and then consult a Philosopher’s Stone to discover preparation methods.

Alchemist: The Potion Monger review

Often I’d gather the required items from the surrounding lands, return home, prepare resources, and then be faced with an exploding cauldron. This is a game that will happily let you make the same mistakes repeatedly, without ever providing a helping hand, which leads to mild frustration. Worsening things, the potion almanac is fiddly to navigate, with faint text and numerous tabs to flick between.

It’s a shame that this core aspect hasn’t been streamlined or made more user friendly, as there’s a lot of stuff here to get into. The lab can be kitted out with furniture and decorated by distilling resources to create paint. Livestock and plants can be purchased from the local farmer after running a few errands, and a market stall can be purchased and prices for goods set accordingly. Exploring the game world, preparing for a boss battle, and discovering paths for reaching new areas takes time too. The amount of freedom here is easy to appreciate.

While clearly created with good intentions, the presentation lets the package down somewhat, especially when it comes to the visuals. I get the impression this was made to run well on low spec PCs, or perhaps was developed with a Switch conversion in mind, as everything is quite chunky and angular, while textures are basic. The kindest thing I can say about the visuals is that they’re bright and colourful, helping to create an inviting world. The less said about the bipedal animal citizens the better, with some species – such as the humanoid pigs – being more creepy than cute.

Alchemist: The Potion Monger has rough edges (playing on Xbox, at one point I was prompted to press the ‘E’ key) but at the same time, it has a pleasingly humble feel to it, with a light-hearted and comical tone. If they’re able to comprehend the complexities of the potion almanac, I think younger gamers will find something to enjoy here, even if its just exploring the countryside and throwing potions at the peculiar townsfolk. So, while it isn’t quite magical, it isn’t quite a case of ‘smoke and mirrors’ either.

Art Game Studio’s Alchemist: The Potion Monger is out April 3rd on consoles. It’s also available on PC in an early access state.