REVIEW: The Tower SP

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Yoot Saito is a man after my own heart.  His most popular game is probably Seaman, the bizarre life simulation game for Dreamcast.  Some of the gameplay consists of the fishman insulting you with his scarily human face, and  narration was provided by Leonard Nimoy.  It’s like a goddamn love letter to me, but unfortunately I do not own a Dreamcast, so I have never played it.  Saito’s more recent game is Odama, a pinball game where you wage war on the table with a rival faction using a microphone peripheral and voice commands.  Take that as you will, but apparently it was awesome if you had the patience for it.

And then there was SimTower, his first game.  Oh, how I LOVED SimTower when I was younger.  This is a GBA port that has been improved in every way.

Basically, you start with a sum of money and are instructed to build a tower.  Your initial available options are things like lobby, offices, condos, and fast food restaurants.  As you get more people, your star rating will go up, which will unlock more options like hotel rooms, restaurants, a train station, parking, shops, and a number of other little odds and ends.

The trick is that the tower construction operates within an extremely restricted set of rules.  Condo residents don’t like living next to offices and fast food restaurants, because these things are too noisy.  Likewise, offices don’t like being next to fast food, and they have to have things like easily accessible restrooms, snack shops, and proper security and maintenance staff.  If any of these things are lacking, the mood of the residents will drop and they will move out.  The popularity of your restaurants and shops also depends on word of mouth, and each will open with a set number of residents that will increase as these people tell their friends as long as they have an easy time coming and going.

Elevator placement is the biggest headache, though it’s much less a problem in the GBA version than it is in the PC version.  The biggest source of stress for your residents will be waiting in line while the elevators collect all residents from every floor in the building.  You have to make sure you have enough elevators, with max number of cars, make sure they only serve a certain number of floors, install express elevators to operate between lobbies, et cetera.  Bathroom placement for offices was also a problem I had getting one of the last star ratings.  For whatever reason, the occupants of more than three or four offices cannot share bathrooms.  I have no idea why, because this is only about 18 people.  It’s not like they’re all going to be standing in line at the same time.

There’s also maintenance and amenities that you have to provide.  Housekeeping has to clean your hotel rooms every night, and there also has to be enough placed to clean all the offices on weekends.  You need enough security to patrol the building every night.  You need to have recycling centers, enough medical centers placed to serve your office occupants, and many people will start to complain if you don’t have enough restaurants and fast food joints placed.  Make sure you have enough parking.  Similarly, remember to swap the movie in your theatre periodically, because people will stop coming to the theatre and surrounding shops if the picture runs too long.

About the only thing I miss from the PC version is being able to let it idle in order to earn money for new construction (you earn money through quarterly office rent, by selling condos, daily income from restaurants, shops, the theatre, et cetera, but you also have to pay quarterly tower maintenance costs).  You can let the game idle, but it runs extremely slowly unless you hold down the B button for fast mode.

You view the tower as a cross-section, and you can view the “eval” of each business/residence/shop by clicking on it and investigating.  Here, you can see the general mood, specific complaints, and how much you are charging for the place.  You can also name units if you like to experiment and check up on the residents every once in awhile.  Within this window, you can also click on individual people to see how they are doing and if they have any specific complaints.  Similarly, you can also name individuals and follow them around the tower to see how they use the facilities.  You can’t see people actually walking around, but you can check in on them by looking them up in an index, and a named person will always have a different color sprite.  You’ll also be able to see them in line for the elevators.  You’ll be seeing a lot of people in line for the elevators, though.

It’s like a wonderful logic puzzle.  You’ll find yourself scrapping towers and starting over as you learn the subtleties of elevator layouts, shopping blocks, parking, hotels, and just the way everything fits together and works to draw more residents into the tower.  The new features from the PC version are largely fiddly things like the bathrooms and vending machines, but a lot of the rules are changed and everything was scaled down.

It’s just a perfect portable Tower simulation.  It satisfied me in every way.  I cannot express my love for this game enough.  Sadly, this had an extremely limited release, but I hope it found its way into the hands of people that really love it.

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