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
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 neighbours, 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. As I
mentioned at the start of this review, I have been waiting for an
intriguing economic simulation based around a mall for quite some time.
After playing Mall Tycoon, I've decided that I'm still waiting.