“Casual time-management” is almost an oxymoron. Casual games are supposed to be relaxing, but there’s nothing relaxing about assembling meals for a succession of impatient customers, against the clock, with almost no margin for error.

But that’s exactly what Hellopet House delivers: a generally casual, restful experience built around a spine of time-management gameplay that will tax the fingers and reflexes of even the most accomplished virtual chefs.

You play as a young woman called Jane. In a setup that’s as old as time, or at least as old as the story-based casual gaming genre popularized by titles like Homescapes and Matchington Mansion, your starting point is a dilapidated mansion in need of love and care.

The central mansion-renovating gameplay loop involves completing time-management stages in order to earn stars to spend on specific items or actions that move the story forward.

For instance, you can spend a star on a rug to lay in the mansion’s entrance hall, or on cleaning the bathroom, or on receiving a visit from the kind young man who lives next door and has taken an interest in your many pets. In most cases you don’t have a choice about what to spend your stars on, with events being presented in a linear series.

Completing these stages also unlocks new animals, who wander around your mansion being affectionate and adorable.

The time-management sections are a lot like Diner Dash, Cook, Serve, Delicious!!, and Spongebob: Krusty Cook-Off. They see you assembling meals for a series of animal customers until you meet your goal for that stage or fail and crash out.

At first, your menu is limited to bowls of fried meat and water, but as you progress you’ll have to manage more dishes and ingredients, all against the clock and with additional conditions that you have to meet on pain of abrupt failure.

As a time-management game, Hellopet House rapidly gets tougher. Think you’ve got it in the bag because you nearly finished Cook, Serve, Delicious!!? Think again. Hellopet House is as demanding as they come, with punishing time-limits and unforgiving conditions.

Your goals and failure triggers are different every time. For instance, one stage might ask you to get a certain number of Likes within a certain time limit, failing you if you let a pet leave. Another might ask you to reach a coin goal from a limited number of pets, failing you if you discard any dishes. It’s brutal.

There are boosters to help you out, but these cost gems. So does buying yourself more time if you’re failing a level, and buying an upgrade if you don’t have enough coins.

As you’d expect, Hellopet House has a rich and varied in-game economy consisting of gems, coins, sweets, stars, hearts, and energy. The game isn’t exactly stingy in how much of these currencies it dishes out, but you need to spend it carefully. It’s all too easy to plough all your gems into upgrades only to find you can’t buy the vital booster you need to help you pass a tough stage.

We’ve spent a lot of time on time-management because that’s the main engine of Hellopet House’s gameplay. However, you’ll also spend a lot of time hanging out with your pets and tending to their needs.

As your furry friends gambol and doze in your mansion they’ll display thought bubbles letting you know whether they want to play, eat, wash, or be stroked. You can also tap on a pet at any time to see whether they’re happy.

Keeping your animals happy costs hearts, which regenerate over time. Again, this means you need to plan your spending to some extent. You can only accumulate four hearts at a time, so if you plough them all into a single animal you may leave the others feeling neglected.

Hellopet House is packed with customization options. Each item of furniture you unlock comes in three different variants, and you can flip between them for free. You can buy accessories like collars and hats using sweets, too, giving you an endless succession of carrots to chase if that’s your thing.

But all this casual, fluffy stuff is just a front. You can absolutely sink your time into looking after your pets and customizing your mansion, but if you want to get anywhere in Hellopet House you’ll need to brush up on your time-management skills or build up a stockpile of gems. Check out the game via the App Store and Google Play.

Summary

A well presented time-management game that – if you let it get its claws into you – will keep you busy for a while to come.  

Score: 4 stars out of 5

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