Airborne Entertainment seems to have cornered the market on mobile tycoon games. Its staff worked with Hexacto on the original Lemonade Tycoon game, which may be the genre’s seminal work. Airborne followed up on that experience with a recent pair of extreme sports-themed business sims, Skateboard Park Tycoon and Snowboard Park Tycoon. Now, Airborne and developer Humagade have hit the tycoon game mother lode, inking Donald Trump–the famous real estate baron, quintessential deal-maker, and newly minted TV personality–to a content deal. We had a chance to play with their newest mobile market-forces mock-up, the Activision-published Donald Trump’s Real-Estate Tycoon, and came away from the experience raring for more.
The idea in Donald Trump’s Real-Estate Tycoon is the same as in all other tycoon games: make as much money as you possibly can. In this instance, the trick is to buy up or build properties when they’re cheap, milk them for rent as you wait for the market to rise, and then sell them for a big profit when you think the market has hit its high point. The SimCity-ish, isometric cityscape includes four different types of real estate, in addition to empty lots: commercial, office, hotel, and residential. Each of these flavors comes in small, medium, or large building sizes, which are priced according to the amount of rent they can bring in. Real-Estate Tycoon’s motivating force is, of course, The Donald himself, who is employing your fresh-out-of-B-school neophyte. Trump checks in on your progress every six months, and if he likes what you’re doing for his bottom line, he’ll bump you up a floor in his 100-story headquarters. If not, you’ll get demoted–unless you find yourself on the first floor, in which case you’ll be kicked to the curb. The goal of the game is to make it to the top floor, where, presumably, the Big Man will lavish you with attention and expensive champagne before coughing up the keys to his empire.
During gameplay, you select, buy, and sell buildings by way of Real-Estate Tycoon’s intuitive four-direction contextual menu system, which allows you to choose your course of action using only the direction keys and the action button. Your options vary according to the situation. For instance, if you select an empty lot on the map, you can purchase it and start construction on any building you’ve got the cash for. If you’re dealing with a building you already own, you can investigate its condition and occupancy levels (all buildings start at 100 percent and gradually degrade, lowering their tenant capacity and overall value), spend money to refurbish it, sell it, or demolish it outright. On the other hand, if you select one of the other tycoon’s buildings, you can check its stats and make an offer to buy it outright–but at a highly inflated price.
The real action begins when someone decides to sell a property. A feeding frenzy ensues in auction format, where you can try to outbid your competition (and Trump, on occasion) if you choose–or, if you’re selling, watch the price shoot skyward as your enemies lose their cool. With a touch of the 1 key, the game will display a handy line graph tracing the performance of each zoning type over time, so you can try to identify trends and divine the right time to sell. Press the left soft-key from there, and you’ll have access to all of your relevant financial data, including incomes, expenses, net value change, and how high you’ve risen on the corporate totem pole.
Real-Estate Tycoon’s marvelously simple trade-and-watch dynamic is a lot of fun on its own terms, but Airborne and Humagade have stuck in a couple of gameplay wrinkles to add more depth. Random events can turn your tidy little fiefdom upside down in a hurry–or present huge opportunities for gain, depending on how the cookie crumbles. For example, sunny weather can send tourists flocking to hotels, or an economic collapse can knock the bottom out of the office-space market. In any case, it pays big dividends to keep a close eye on current events. Also, there are parking lots strewn around the city that automatically boost the value of adjacent properties, so it’s a good idea to stake your claims nearby. These little touches add another layer to the already engrossing gameplay.
Real-Estate Tycoon is shaping up to be a good effort from an audiovisual standpoint too. The graphics on the Series 60 preview version are vivid, and there are plenty of different building types for variety’s sake. The game’s sound features several gruff voice recordings from Trump, which are a hoot. Hopefully the developers will expand Trump’s vocal stylings and work on tuning the game’s performance before release, as the present version runs a little on the slow side.
In all, Donald Trump’s Real-Estate Tycoon seems like a very impressive tycoon game, even in its present, unfinished incarnation. This game looks like it will satiate any strategy fan’s lust for micromanagement with its rapidly changing economic environment–and would-be wheeler-dealers won’t be able to put it down. We can’t wait to see the final version in early October.
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