Connect with us

Review

Tropico 6 Review — Bananas and Hammocks

Published

on

Tropico 6

Tone is a curious thing—sometimes overlooked, but nonetheless capable of defining a game’s personality. In few genres is the value of this part of the gaming experience as pronounced as the tycoon simulator. SimCity, for example, takes a neutral, po-faced approach, while Frostpunk leans hard into survival territory to create a singularly grim atmosphere. Tropico 6 takes a different route, lampooning past global politics in a goofy and fun nation-builder that, nevertheless, probably should have taken a little longer in the delivery.

Tropico 6 comes as a salve to anyone tired of the aesthetic status quo in gaming. Pseudo-European historicism, metropolitanism, grimdark naturalism, and dystopian visions are all absent, replaced with an approximation of the tropical idylls that adorn tourism posters the world over. Further detail in the visuals might be appreciated, but certainly is not needed, as the coconut palms, golden beaches, and tracts of forest convey a paradisiacal atmosphere. The look is bolstered by the cheery calypso soundtrack. The uptempo beats are sure to get toes tapping, even if they do become overly familiar and borderline tiresome after extended play.

Muting the audio in favour of a personal playlist circumvents the issue, but it should still be mentioned in light of the time sink that Tropico 6 demands. Fans of city builders will be aware that the balancing act required to maintain a happy citizenry and profitable industry can take tens of hours. Tropico 6, as with its predecessor, complicates this process through the inclusion of eras. In the tutorial (and sandbox, if they so choose), players begin in the Colonial Era, fulfilling tasks that move the action forward through the World Wars, Cold War, and Modern Times periods, each of which unlocks additional mechanics—industries to increase profit margins, edicts to mollify the population, world monuments to steal, and political superpowers to bargain with.

The incremental addition of new toys gives freeplay a sense of structure for anyone who seeks it. Otherwise, the game includes 15 missions to help players get a grip of the gameplay outside the limitations of the tutorial. Although these missions are stories, they do not combine into an overarching narrative. Each quest is bookended by narration from Tropico’s second-in-command, Penultimo, as he and El Presidente recount snippets from the island nation’s history. The situations encapsulate the silly tone that the game aims for, including buying Tropico’s freedom from colonialism by smuggling out gold hidden in coconuts and trying to put a Willy Wonka parody out of business. Less amusing are the bugs apparent in some of these missions, as objectives will sometimes stop appearing, leaving players no way to complete the adventure. Thankfully, gameplay-affecting problems are few and far between, with perhaps the most notable being the lack of acknowledgement for fulfilling import demands from non-Superpower trading partners.

For El Presidentes who would prefer to write their own destinies, Tropico 6 offers a robust sandbox mode. Players can begin a campaign in any era, with an archipelago randomly generated according to options such as aridity, topography, and size. Custom victory objectives can also be set, alongside other variables that affect the difficulty.

However, players hoping for a real challenge may want to search elsewhere. Rarely does Tropico’s economic state fall into an irremediable spiral, even with the toughest conditions in place, as gaming the expenditure of profit-producing industries is always possible to increase revenue from exports. Meanwhile, the threat of being ousted through enemy invasion is slim, and the encounters easily won. Although rebellions are possible, citizens will endure decades of dictatorial oppression, homelessness, and a 0% approval rating without ever rising up, even in the absence of police stations and military forts. The other major loss condition—being voted out—is a non-issue, as elections can be delayed indefinitely without any notable ramifications. Economic corrections therefore usually require only time. In this respect, Tropico 6 feels geared towards newcomers to the genre.

A key absence is the granular micromanagement of the likes of Planet Coaster. Nevertheless, the context of being El Presidente rather than a business owner goes some way towards explaining the difference. A curious side-effect of this altered perspective is Tropico 6’s political engagement. Colonialism, Cold War paranoia, nuclear threats, and neo-liberal global economies are among the cultural developments mentioned, but the game takes an irreverent approach to them all. Some commentators may, as a result, criticise Tropico 6 for making light of problematic historical moments (perhaps justifiably), but the veneer of humour that rules over every aspect of the project pushes such concerns out of mind.

This trait is just another example of how the flippant, devil-may-care tone proves to be Tropico 6’s greatest asset. However, even a thoroughly enjoyable romp amidst a winning environment is not enough to elevate the game beyond its contemporaries. Tropico 6 matches and even exceeds the breadth of content found in fellow city-builders, but it does not delve deeply enough into its simulation to take the genre forward a step. For some prospective players, the lack of depth may be too great an impertinence to brook, but everyone else will find a delightful management sim with one of the best settings the genre has ever seen.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on PC.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

Continue Reading
Comments

Review

SteamWorld Quest Review — Full Steam Ahead

Published

on

The SteamWorld series has a habit of refusing to be confined to a single genre. The first entry in the series, way back on the Nintendo DSi, was a simple tower-defense game. That title was followed by procedurally generated platformer SteamWorld Dig, and then came strategy action title SteamWorld Heist. Now, developer Image & Form has dived into the turn-based RPG with SteamWorld Quest: The Hand of Gilgamech.

SteamWorld Quest is set in the same universe as the previous SteamWorld games, featuring a cast of steam bots who speak in a rapid, chattering language, helpfully translated for the players by subtitles.

As usual for a SteamWorld title, the first thing to draw the eye is the lovely hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds. The game has a surprising amount of detail in these 2D sprites, and players may find themselves suddenly noticing a detail that previously escaped attention.

The first characters to be introduced are Armilly and Copernica, a wannabe knight and alchemist, respectively. The animation provides great hints towards the character personalities before they even speak, showing Copernica as being quiet and introspective, but with a strong will, while Armilly puts up a brave front to cover deeper insecurities. This depth continues through the game, with subtle character tics betraying plot hints and nods to backstories.

Players pick up new party members as the game progresses, first running into Galleo, a big green bot who acts as party healer. Other characters can also be recruited, adding their own skills in combat to the roster. Only three party members can be active at once, so getting the balance right is important.

Combat itself is handled by a card system. Each character has a deck of no more than eight cards, three of which can be played each turn. By using their entire deck, players utilise effects such as attacks, defensive spells, healing, buffs, debuffs, and so on. Pleasingly, the combat system is complemented by a captivating sense of style, with each card channelling old-fashioned computer punch aesthetics.

The developers are clearly fans of collectable card games, as cards can also be chained together into combos, which provide an extra effect on the completion. This effect is not as easy to achieve as it might sound, however, as some cards require ‘Steam pressure’ to be played. This mechanic brings in an element of deck building and strategy, as players balance building steam pressure with spending it. Therefore, players can spend a significant amount of time agonising over new strategies, trying to decide on an effective build for the limited deck size.

Getting card game elements in a video game wrong is easy, by having the mechanics too complex or unwieldy. SteamWorld Quest avoids the pitfalls experienced by games such as Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories by making the card-based combat relatively simple. New twists and complexities are added gradually, thus giving the player several ways to build a deck to suit individual play style.

Cards can be crafted at the travelling merchant, providing a use for the various materials players pick up on their travels. Cards can also be upgraded to increase their effectiveness, preventing useful early cards from becoming obsolete later. Players can add to their decks by finding cards scattered about the world, along with weapons and accessories to make characters more effective, emphasising the importance of exploration.

SteamWorld Quest is more story-driven than its predecessors, and a lot of time between battles is taken up with talking. The conversations never outstay their welcome, as the plot moves along at a pleasing pace, and the characters are engaging enough to keep the player interested. As players progress, more backstory is uncovered, and some scenes can be surprisingly emotional, with the fluid character animations underscoring the dialogue in a believable way.

The writing uses consistent characterisation that is happy to show the player about the world and the characters instead of spilling everything in a massive information dump. This writing style serves the pacing well. The only real issue is that while the game allows skipping of dialogue, entirely skipping a scene is impossible, so when players are re-exploring an area for hidden secrets, the same scenes keep playing out, even if they have been seen before.

The game has frequent nods towards world-building and backstory, which serves to draw the player in. Progression reveals that the problems in the world of SteamWorld Quest go deeper than invading Dark Lords and evil magic. The first time the player notices that the language the steam bots speak is like a more pleasant version of modem noise, implying that the characters are speaking in binary, is a nice touch. Other geeky references are scattered around, including an equippable book called an Octavo, a sneaky reference to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Despite the cartoonish artwork and often light-hearted dialogue, hints at darkness are ever-present in the universe of SteamWorld Quest—something that is underscored by the music, which starts off pleasant and whimsical. However, as players progress into more dangerous areas, the mood of the soundscape also shifts, providing a counterpoint to the action and dialogue while never being obtrusive.

The gameplay flow is easy to get into once the basic controls have been established, though toggling the ‘speed up’ option in the menu is a good idea, as otherwise players need to hold down the right trigger to speed through enemy turns during combat. SteamWorld Quest shines when showing off the amount of depth that it offers in crafting cards, building suitable decks, and deciding on party composition for each area, with each enemy encounter tip-toeing delightfully between the exploitation of strengths and weaknesses. Boss battles, in particular, can be challenging unless chain combos have been mastered, which can itself be tricky if the character decks do not have the right balance.

SteamWorld Quest: The Hand of Gilgamech is a wonderful, fun RPG adventure that has a lot of depth to delve into, secrets to explore, and story to uncover. The game looks beautiful, sounds brilliant, and has a smooth and absorbing gameplay flow. SteamWorld Quest, is surprisingly easy to get completely sucked in to, with the card game elements providing an impressive amount of complexity to the combat. Any RPG fan should give serious consideration to adding the title to their Nintendo Switch library and fans of previous SteamWorld games will find a lot to enjoy in the art and lore, too.

OnlySP Review Score 5 High Distinction

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Continue Reading