Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift
When I was a little kid, I wanted to run a graveyard when I grew up. I wanted to run this graveyard right beside my house, taking customers as they came, digging each grave by hand, planting flowers, setting out benches and lamp posts, then meandering about while the families came to visit. I also wanted to do all of this because a nagging woman living in the tropics demanded I raise a million dollars and buy her expensive presents. But hark and alas and such, none of that came true. Fortunately, Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is here to fill that gap!
Ok, so none of that stuff has anything to do with me, but it must have been Mr. Jones' dream, as that's exactly how he's spending his retirement years. After retreating to the country with his trusty canine companion, Mr. Jones realizes he's lonely. A call from his old friend Mimi cheers him up, and she invites him to join her in the Caribbean. Provided he can spruce up his own wardrobe, bring her some jewelry, buy a house, and raise a massive amount of spending cash. A "helpful" flyer suggests he run his own graveyard to make money, so Mr. Jones grabs a shovel and starts digging.
Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is a curious combination of a free-form simulation, tycoon management, and time management game. Customers drive in on the right side of the property. Meet them at the gate and see what kind of memorial they are interested in. At first, most customers want something cheap with just a few niceties on the side. Later, however, you'll get big spenders who demand perfection for their loved one's final resting place.
No matter the price, your methods will be about the same. First, dig the grave on the field. Then, grab extras the customer requested, such as flowers, lamp posts, fountains, benches, etc. Set these beside the plot, add a headstone, and when you're ready to call the family, engrave the correct name in stone. After the service has ended, you collect your cash from the departing vehicle and are back to work.
Each day ends with Mr. Jones going to bed and, if you like, depositing cash in the Mimi fund. When morning comes, customers come in and Mr. Jones is back to work. A shopkeeper stops by at the crack of dawn and offers more headstones, flowers, and miscellaneous structures for you to buy. It's a good idea to stock up on everything you can afford, as you never know what the next customer will request.
Analysis: Despite its somewhat morbid nature, Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is an upbeat, humorous game. You're almost required to adopt a whimsical attitude when dealing with a sensitive topic such as death and want to keep the game appealing to a wide audience. The subject matter was handled well, however, and the game comes off as light-hearted and even cheery.
The description makes Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift sound like an ordinary time management game. Really, though, it's anything but ordinary, and sometimes it feels more like a simulation/tycoon title than anything. For starters, you have complete control over your land. Graves can be dug anywhere there's space, as near or far as you like. Also, after setting flowers and benches beside the proper graves, you can always move them to a new spot later on. Remove too many amenities, however, and zombies appear to remind you to leave the dead resting in blissful peace.
Another major departure from the time management formula is... well... time. You have as long as you like to raise the cash to reunite with Mimi in the Caribbean. Want to sleep a few days without doing anything? It's your choice. Once you take on a job, however, you have a limited amount of time to accomplish the task. Otherwise, you're free to meander and spend money as you please. In fact, once you have enough cash you can let potential clients drive away while you tend to your "gardening".
Controls are a bit awkward in Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift. The set-up is unintuitive, walking to where you need to go is cumbersome, and there are some frustrating shortcomings in the pathfinding and object collisions. When mourners attend the funeral, for example, you'd better be far away, as Mr. Jones can't pass through the people and will often get stuck if he's working near that grave. To make matters worse, when these collisions happen, everyone just stops, forcing you to remedy the situation with a panic click or two. Fortunately the game isn't on a timer, so you won't lose anything other than a bit of patience.
If you don't mind playing a game about digging graves, Mr. Jones' Graveyard Shift is a superb blend of time management and simulation genres. Because it's so open-ended, it actually scales itself to meet your gaming needs, providing more challenge if you want it, or resting on its laurels while you soak in some casual gameplay. The visuals are well above average and there are plenty of unique items to buy. You'll unearth lots of satisfaction from this lengthy, quirky game!