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School Tycoon is a game that allows you to construct classrooms, staff buildings, sports buildings, and entertainment in order to build a "five star" school. You hire teachers to staff the classrooms, coaches for your sports areas, and workers for your landscape, janitorial duties, and maintenance. The entire time you play the game, a report card tracks your progress in areas like "Academics" and "Sports" and "Morale". These are all areas you want to score an "A" in to master the game. The game play is fun at first, but the more you play the more the frustrations begin to arise.
The first major problem encountered with School Tycoon is that there is no manual! It used to be that every gaming company would provide a printed manual with their game. Then someone got the idea of cutting corners and costs by just shipping the manual on the CD-ROM. Now some dufus is floating around the idea of "why provide any type of manual at all?"
Let me answer that question; because manuals teach a person how to use a game and solve problems so that your technical support department isn't swamped with calls like "how do I assign a maintenance man to my maintenance building?" But, of course, they solved that problem by not providing a phone number. There is an email address, however (firstname.lastname@example.org).
On the game disk there is an extremely flimsy non-interactive tutorial that tells you a few pointers, but not hardly enough to master the game or the various challenges.
The user interface is nice and easy to use. You can choose between two types of game play. There's Challenge Mode and Instant Action. In Challenge Mode there are 24 different challenges (8 beginner, 8 intermediate, 8 advanced). You don't have to complete one challenge to unlock others, which is nice for some people who find certain challenges more boring than others. In Instant Action Mode there are no challenge scenarios - you simply build your mega-school. With Instant Action you get to select whether you want to build your school on Farmland, at the Beach, or in the City.
School Tycoon does provide some fun game play, but fails to go the distance in providing a true well-rounded experience. What the game has going for it is the nice user interface, easy ability to add buildings, ability to create your own students (and set their stats), and the ability to see inside the classrooms. These are all nice features that are well executed within the game.
Another nice feature is that the school newspaper within the game will once in awhile offer "coupons" that you can redeem (buy) in order to have some positive effect on your school. An example is a coupon you can pay to redeem that holds a school dance and increases student morale. Another allows you to pay over $12,000 to hold a staff meeting, thus increasing the skills of your workers. Hold a teachers conference ($17,000) and each of your teachers skills improve. These would be better scheduled as "events" (after all, what school cuts a coupon out of the school paper in order to hold a staff meeting?) But still, the ability to increase the skills of your workers and staff is a nice feature.
Unfortunately School Tycoon falls way short in many areas. For example, most of the buildings are locked at the beginning of the game and the requirements for "unlocking" the buildings are completely illogical. For example, in order to build a school cafeteria you must first build two candy vending machines, two soda vending machines, and a portable detention center. What? It's totally illogical and virtually all the buildings are like this. Here's another example: In order to build a large tennis court, you must first construct a small tennis court, deluxe janitor building, medium social studies building, medium library, medium math building, medium biology building, and medium English building. No rhyme or reason as to how they came up with this, which is a fundamental problem with the game overall. You don't even want to see the requirements for building a roller coaster. Yes, a roller coaster at school; after all, don't all schools have roller coasters? No? Hmmmm... well the must all have go-cart racing tracks and large miniature golf courses because you can construct those in School Tycoon too... that is if you can meet the hefty requirements without pulling your hair out first.
That's only one problem with the game! Another fundamental problem is random disasters striking your school. Disasters include earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, fires, and food poisoning. You can literally face dozens of these in one school year. After all, we're reading daily about how all of our schools are being destroyed by earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornados, right? You have a better chance of winning the lottery than figuring out some of the logic that went into this game; one where your classrooms are all built in buildings OUTSIDE, with no option of building an indoor school like 95% of schools are in the nation.
Interestingly enough, my two biggest gripes about the game play (the logic behind making buildings available and natural disasters) could have been solved with one easy step - an Options menu where you can turn off disasters and tell the program to unlock all the school buildings.
And speaking of school buildings... when you went to school, how many students could use the school's largest restroom? For most schools that would be a dozen or more for men and a dozen or more for women. Well, in School Tycoon the largest restroom can only accommodate four people total (i.e. 2 men and 2 women). The designers of this game must have gone to a school with a total of 14 students in all grades. Like with much of the other game, there's no rhyme or reason behind such bad execution.
One thing I found interesting is that even though the game was one year old at the time of this review, there are billboard advertisements within the game for Batman Begins on June 15. We may be seeing more of this type of advertising in future games where a check for updates actually updates the ads within the game.
School Tycoon ends up being extremely unrealistic when it comes to truly building a school. While Roller Coaster Tycoon nicely captures the realism of building a theme park, School Tycoon lacks the magic of truly building and running a school. When you start playing there appears to be hope, but as the game goes on that hope fades and you realize that the only one's making money off of these students is the game maker.
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