Virtual Resort: Spring Break Download (2002 Simulation Game)

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As with television shows and movies, one often finds that the more racy and suggestive a game's theme, the less likely it is to offer complex, substantive content. Yet in spite of subject matter that seems hand-picked to stir controversy and grab attention, Virtual Resort: Spring Break is a solid building simulation -- for the most part, at least. At its best, the game uses its themes of college-age debauchery to frame believable challenges of land development, business management, and crowd control. At other times, however, attempts at hedonistic humor leak into the methods and means of gameplay itself, with frustrating results.

Many gamers who enjoy more conservatively themed building simulations will find it refreshingly fun to develop an island that caters to the wants and needs of a population of party animals. Spring Break offers many options that allow players to experiment with staffing and security, pricing and hours of operation, the gender-specific appeals of different facilities, and the various effects of mass intoxication. Yet when winning a scenario relies more on catching a bit of sophomoric innuendo than on good business management and strategy, as it sometimes does in this game, true simulation fans may feel punished at the expense of an adolescent joke.

The game's ten scenarios are mixed in this regard. Some rely heavily on traditional building-sim skills, requiring a good choice of facilities, wise placement of buildings, and smart pricing to ensure success. The game does a nice job setting up real-life choices and consequences in these scenarios. In other levels however, success may rely more on a cheap trick, such as guessing the correct type of beer to serve by its made-up brand name alone, than on any real strategic reasoning. It is not at all intuitive or realistic, for example, that the "Cape Horn" brand of beer would make island guests more amorous than the "Thumpers" brand does. If in real life there were a particular brand of beer that had such unusual aphrodisiacal effects, it is certain we all would have heard of it by now. A lot of us would be buying it by the case.

Nevertheless, gamers who can forgive such unrefined flights of fancy will have fun with Spring Break. The game's presentation is polished and its graphics are very good for an isometric 2D strategy game. While the main map itself can only be viewed from one direction, buildings and objects can be rotated with a touch of the mouse wheel (or space bar) before they're placed. There are only three pre-set zoom levels and the resolution remains the same as the camera moves in or out, so at the closest perspective people and objects look pixilated. Still, island guests come in a nice variety of shapes and sizes and they are generally well animated. The lighting effects in the game are especially noteworthy. Day changes to night gradually and it's charming to watch streetlamps and neon signs light up individually across the island at dusk. Weather effects are also well done, with believable heat waves, misty showers, and heavy lightning storms.

The game sounds good too. Dance floors pump out pulsating rhythms, and power plants make a convincingly disruptive sub-woofer rumble. Sound effects are directional, fading into the background as the screen scrolls away from the noise-producing area. Island guests make cackles, coos, catcalls, and other expressive ululations, so it's easy enough to tell when they are excited, disappointed, drunk, or aroused. Spring Break's soundtrack features a nice mix of tropical-influenced dance music and electronica, and the in-game "GipAmp" player is an unusual boon for audiophiles. It allows gamers to skip forward or backward to a favorite song, pause the music without pausing the game, and adjust volume levels, all from a simple interface in the main screen. The GipAmp also makes it easy for gamers to play their own .MP3 tracks in the game, and different songs can be set to play during the day or at night.

In all, Virtual Resort: Spring Break is a decent, typical building simulation, distinguished from the pack of similar "Tycoon" games by its theme and its attention to presentational details. Some of the game's objectives are surprisingly difficult, however, and solving each scenario almost always relies on figuring out a single, simple technique. Even aside from the levels that rely on cheap tricks to bolster difficulty, veteran sim gamers will often need to resort to trial and error to find the right solution. Through it's well written, the game's manual could have listed more specific information without ruining the fun. For better or worse though, part of the pleasure of any spring break is discovering the risqué revelations it has in store -- even though there's often nothing left but a headache when the party's over.

Graphics: A nice level of detail and excellent lighting effects make Spring Break a pretty game to watch, especially for an isometric 2D strategy simulation. Graphics are consistent and believable. Animations are expressive.

Sound: Sound effects are accurate and nicely integrated into the environments. The game's music is far above average, featuring thumping Euro-dance tracks and popping electronica. The built-in "GipAmp" .MP3 player is an empowering, easy-to-use feature.

Enjoyment: Some scenarios reward hard work and smart play, while others resort to cheap tricks and gimmicky attempts at humor. Nonetheless, most building-sim aficionados will enjoy taking stewardship of such visually pleasing, aurally exciting, smoothly animated vacation islands.

Replay Value: While the greatest frustrations in the game come when the player's well-managed resort fails because of missing a simple yet elusive trick, scenarios are far less challenging once those tricks are discovered. The game allows any solved area to be revisited in a Sandbox mode, but Spring Break is not as engaging when there are no mission objectives at all.


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