Moon Tycoon, despite blocky graphics, basic sounds, and a familiar story, is surprisingly addictive and given half a chance, may work its way under your skin. It adds nothing new to the genre, but offers enough to make you sneak in an extra session here and there.
The Earth's population has devoured the world's fuel supply, but the crisis can be averted when a rare isotope used in fusion, known as Helium 3, is found in abundance on the moon. As part of the Space Agency, a U.N. approved pioneer group, you must not only deal with the harsh environment of the moon, but also with the agency's craven, bureaucratic leader, President Little. Four types of industries, each with unique strategies, include research, tourism, production, and mining. Only by balancing business and the rigors of space will you become the ultimate moon tycoon.
The science fiction plot has some basis in reality, as Helium 3, a real-world element found mainly on the moon, is considered by some experts as a possible solution to the inevitable energy shortage facing the world. From that point, though, the story wanders with lame stock characters. President Little is a whiny, incompetent back stabber whose son is no better. Fu Chan, your first officer, drifts into space after inspecting a radar anomaly, and returns barely alive years later, with a possible alien abduction mystery in tow. The trite story furthers the missions, but isn't engrossing.
As bad as the story is, though, the graphics are worse. The moon, however mysterious and dangerous, is still a dead hunk of rock, and every level is played on a square patch of ubiquitous gray. The rotating earth in the background seems to enhance the loneliness, and the buildings, blocky with only minor animations, fail to offer any contrast to the dullness. Even the hovering ships are flat, though colorful. Camera movement is smooth, but the playing field is essentially a bunch of dull buildings on a dreary lunar landscape.
Moon Tycoon portrays the vacuum of space nicely, with sounds consisting of nothing more than the occasional meteor shower striking buildings, or any of the other 17 disasters waiting to happen. Two basic soundtracks, "Ambient" and "Techno," are offered, but after extended play the selection of choice will be to toggle it "off."
Questionable design issues include no difficulty levels for the 30-mission campaign, and a choice between only a single-player game or sandbox mode. With no multiplayer option, no rival tycoons can be challenged and there are no aliens to eradicate, thus the lack of military conflict may bore some gamers. There are storyboarding problems, as well, such as finishing a challenge with the beginning allotment of materials months before the scripted story events catch up. "Construct building X" and "Harvest Y amount of Uranium" missions get old after a while, too.
Having discounted nearly every aspect of Moon Tycoon, it is worth noting that the game has an indefinable quality that keeps drawing you back. Planning out the moon base is fun, and the bumpy surface provides building placement challenges. Trying to maintain morale is challenging while you're experimenting with several building types, and dealing with disasters is enjoyable in a SimCity sort of way. Moon Tycoon is basically a cheap, ugly date you keep asking out because you always end up having a good time.
The game may remind fans of the genre of Outpost, another space settlement simulation that, despite being released seven years earlier, has nicer graphics, better sounds, and more depth, though less gameplay enjoyment. Whereas Outpost has vague goals and tiresome action, the quirky Moon Tycoon is deceptively pleasurable.
Graphics: The blocky graphics are thrown against a background nearly the same color as old steel wool. Somewhat colorful, but not as crisp and clean as it needs to be.
Sound: Only two song choices are available, along with occasional background sounds of ships landing, meteor showers and building explosions.
Enjoyment: Despite slipshod graphics and lackluster sounds, gameplay is deceptively addictive. It's a sleeper that could have you sneaking back for more.
Replay Value: No multiplayer, no skirmishes, no rivals -- it's just you and the moon for 30 missions and a sandbox mode.
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