Shrine Circus Tycoon is a festive business management game that puts players in charge of their own circus. Virtual ringmasters fill each of the 15 mission levels with tents and sideshows to attract and entertain guests from nearby towns and cities. As they succeed in smaller venues and their fame grows, players can progress from single-ring tents to three-ring big tops. A choice of six different big top tent styles is available, allowing more customization. Players can also design their own posters, to help draw bigger crowds from local communities. Newspaper-style updates keep them up-to-date on the status of their show.
As in most "tycoon"-style business simulations, balancing expansion with income is the game's main challenge. In addition to managing attractions and guest services, players must see to the needs of the employees who keep these amenities running. Content entertainers put on dazzling acts, but neglected artistes may lose interest in their work, and cause trouble with their sloppy, dangerous performances. Providing nice trailer homes and other high-quality facilities is the best way to keep employees happy -- as long as there's enough money to afford such luxuries. Circus Tycoon features 60 different circus performer characters in all, each with a unique personality and different wants and needs.
Shrine Circus Tycoon is the latest in the long line of the popular Tycoon series of games, where you're placed in charge of running a very specific entity. As in the previous games you're responsible for balancing the books, choosing attractions, and doing your darndest to ensure that John and Jane Q. Public are having a great time.
The heart of Shrine Circus Tycoon is the campaign mode. You begin the campaign mode with a limited amount of capital and a series of milestones you must reach in order to move on to the next town. From there you are presented with a dizzying array of options for you to choose from as you set about creating the greatest show on turf. And believe me when I say, "a dizzying array of options". Anything that you can imagine being associated with a circus, and even some that you can't is presented either for your approval or your aggravation, in a good way of course.
During the course of the game, you must purchase progressively better tents, living quarters, attractions, performers, concession stands, and of course the most vital purchase in almost every Tycoon game, plentiful restrooms. It's a constant balancing act on the purchase/hiring side of the game as the more impressive an act or attraction, the more it costs to maintain. While a big, impressive ride may draw more patrons at a higher price, it also costs not only more to purchase, but also more to run and maintain. You've also got to carefully balance the acts you hire. You're presented with the ability to set a budget for scouting talent for the Big Top and Sideshow attractions, and it goes without saying that the more you budget, the better the act. But it doesn't end there. If you expect your acts to continually improve, therefore increasing their ability to draw a bigger gate, you must keep them happy. To do this you've got to provide living quarters suitable to their skills, as well as training areas, showering areas, food, and you've always got to be mindful of what groups of performers you house together, because some absolutely will not get along, making them unhappy and far less likely to perform to the best of their ability. The degree of micromanagement available in this game is mind-boggling.. In addition to all of this, you've also got to provide repairmen, as well as security guards in numbers suitable for the size of your show, as well as the number of patrons you draw.
As you progress through the game and are able to budget more capital to scouting talent, you'll quickly begin finding every manner of circus performer you can imagine. While the list at the beginning is fairly healthy, its not until later in the game that you'll start finding your personal favorites such as the various animal acts and trainers, as well as the most death defying performers. What's really cool about scouting performers is that you are given a pretty in depth history of the performers, as well as the option to watch them in action, creating a fairly nice immersion factor.
The gameplay, as you can probably imagine features a lot of number crunching, as well as moving slider bars. Beyond that, it is pretty fun setting up your circus, as well as the layouts of the rides, the sideshows, concessions, and of course the restroom. You're also given a wealth options with which to decorate the grounds with ranging from various types of fencing, benches, walkways, lamp posts, and so on. Of course these things cost money, but they also go a long way towards keeping guests happy. As the day at your circus plays out, you have the ability to simply watch the proceeding as the benevolent owner/God of your circus world. Another nice little addition to the gameplay is the ability to play a good number of the midway games you've purchased. These games play out as mini-games and prove to be an enjoyable diversion.
As fun and well thought out as the game comes off for the most part, it's not without some problems. The biggest problem by far is that the AI that governs your performers, is, well, just not that bright. You'll pull your hair out as you watch your tent fill to bursting with anxious sucker..., I mean guests, only to find your performers wandering about their backstage area lost and without a clue as to how to get into the tent. Never mind that the performer entrance is right in front of them, they just don't seem to have the cognitive ability to figure it out unless things are laid out just perfectly. Another problem with the game is the massive amount of trial and error it takes not only in how you spend and invest your capital, but also in how you set up the grounds. Sometimes a set-up that makes the most sense, makes no sense in your circus world. From the aforementioned problems of performer being unable to find their way to work, to small, irritating problems such as your restrooms being a few feet from where the game believes is the optimal place. I know with most games of this nature, trial and error is inherent, and can often times be part of overall enjoyment of the game, but sometimes things go too far as it does quite often here.
The graphics for the most part are pretty nice. There's nothing earth shattering going on here, but it is a pleasant game to look at. The colors are wide, varied, and very vivid, as you would expect a circus to be. There's also always a lot of action going on at any given time. From the patrons moving to and fro, to your rides running, to your performers going about doing their acts, there is always something to see. When you consider the sheer number of things going at once, it is pretty impressive that everything goes off without a hitch or a hint of slowdown.
The sound fares a little better than the graphics, simply because it does such an admirable job of recreating the aural experience of being at the experience and like the graphics, there is always an awful lot going on at once. You'll hear the roars of the animals, the crowds going about enjoying themselves, the sounds of the rides whirling about, and the applause of the crowds in the Big Top.
In the end, Shrine Circus Tycoon is an enjoyable game if you're willing to put in the time to learning its many intricacies and idiosyncrasies. It features a pretty steep learning curve, so it may turn off younger and less experienced gamers. There's a lot to see, do, and hear around Shrine Circus Tycoon, so its definitely a game that will keep you busy and for the most part entertained. And for those willing to stick it out, you just might learn a little something about real world business and money management.
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