Design the shopping center of your dreams -- or nightmares -- with Holistic Design's Mall Tycoon. Veterans of earlier games with "tycoon" in the title should find their basic development and management skills well applied here, while seasoned shoppers who have spent more time at the kiosks than the keyboard may find this release's subject matter a comfortable introduction to the joys of business sim gaming.
Build a cathedral of consumerism, choosing from over 60 different store types. Find the right product mix to draw big crowds. Attract even more business with special shows and seasonal events. The fully-3D mall can be viewed from nearly any angle, allowing the player to keep an eye on the big picture from a distant, top down perspective or to zoom in and follow individual patrons as they go about their business.
Every developer likes to dream sometimes. Upon releasing Theme Park, the brains at Bullfrog said that eventually every subsequent Theme game would be linked together in one giant simulation. This was back in the glory days of Bullfrog when the company was still operated by Peter Molyneux. To my recollection, at least one of these proposed Theme games revolved around building a mall, but the first one to substantiate the idea goes to Holistic Designs. The mall, one of the staples of North America suburbia, was one of the most ideal places to construct a business simulation around. It still is one of the most ideal places to construct a business simulation around because Mall Tycoon's anemic execution really turns any simulation aspects into micromanagement chaos.
Part of the reason is because your freedom is limited to simply designing the mall. If you thought building elaborate houses was tough in The Sims, you haven't seen anything yet. Applying decorations, ornaments and other tidbits to walls is difficult in Mall Tycoon. After you do so, you basically unleash a store unto the public without any significant options beyond decorating it. You can set a price for products and toggle how much of a share you could take. Pizza Tycoon and literally, I think, all pizza parlor economic simulations know inherently that a pizza game would never sell. That's why the whole game is a tongue cheek front for what pizza parlors are famous for; mob fronts. It turned out that those games weren't even about pizzas. Pizza-making was merely a tiny subset of what the actual business was; extorting your neighbors, laundering money, extracting a portion of the profits from fellow businessmen. Mall Tycoon, on the other hand, lacks the wit to take advantage of that level of humor.
Much of Mall Tycoon centers around managing your stores and viewing monthly reports on what works and what doesn't work. You use this data to tweak your horde of merchants to maximize their profits. Whereas in modern simulators, any problem areas, store names or events are hyperlinked to the actual space, Mall Tycoon forces you to track these things down manually. This is representative of the user interface for much of the rest of the game. Mall Tycoon's colorful menus and presentation resemble games like SimGolf or Theme Park World. In practice, the interface is not as intuitive as it could be.
Visually speaking, Mall Tycoon tries to emulate the tried and true formula of other business simulations. But for some unbeknownst reason, it has opted for a low polygon presentation and when I mean low polygon, I mean very low polygon. Being in charge of most of the up and coming PDA reviews, I come across many games that people would consider low resolution, highly derivative or prosaic on the PC. Mall Tycoon's textures, to take one aspect of the visuals, are comparable to those on PDAs. In fact, I've seen better textures in some PDA titles, but I rest my case. The only positive effect that comes out of the graphical simplicity is speed. Many tile-based titles, like The Sims or SimGolf, have a sluggish camera, and that effect tended to fixate your view of the game world. In Mall Tycoon, that's not the case at all because the scrolling is insanely fast.
The best thing about Mall Tycoon is undoubtedly the elevator music. It's not as pleasant as The Sims but it captures the mall setting best. Unfortunately, the economic simulation component is painful in execution. I'm quite supportive of games that lack visual flare. Sometimes, the actual gem of the game lies not in the graphics but in the actual gameplay. Theme Park World, Rollercoaster Tycoon and SimGolf all had endearing characters inside the game. The characters in Mall Tycoon try to capture those idiosyncratic stereotypes. However, no matter how you choose look at Mall Tycoon, the visuals eventually prove to be the biggest detractor. I'm not sure how the developers came to the decision to reduce the detail of the graphics by so much. The artists involved must have been devastated to see their artwork literally destroyed in such a fashion. When you finally get around to building a massive mall, the crude shapes all meld together into an uninformative mélange of colors. The effect is like a surrealist making a palimpsest out of a mannerist piece of art.
I took a quick jaunt to do some ad hoc research on Holistic Designs. Apparently they were behind titles like Final Liberation and a Warhammer 40K turn-based strategy game. The whole development crew seems pretty inundated into fantasy/sci-fi designs. I actually liked that game and in light of that, a game like Mall Tycoon appears totally out of place. The concept, at least, still proves to be an interesting prospect.
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