16-bit Trader is not quite a train wreck of a game, but numerous missteps mar an otherwise middling experience. The gameplay seems intended to be a fairly shallow and forgiving fantasy trading sim. Its writing is cynically comic, but not dark, and nicely complements the attractive artwork which is casual-friendly without alienating more serious gamers by being overly cute. This could have served as a gateway to more challenging economic fare like Medieval Merchants. Unfortunately, even games with such humble aspirations need to execute them better than this.
The trading genre’s usual buy goods-move goods-sell goods-upgrade transport capacity gameplay is present, though supply and demand are oddly unrelated. Quests are periodically available, the rewards for which are great enough that they’re quite worth the time. You can also buy drinks for people in taverns and get treasure maps or tips about hot commodities. Both of these are absurd.
Treasure maps sound great: they help you get more treasure when you explore the dangerous ruins and caverns which seem intended to evoke the fantasy setting. Unfortunately, other than a single graphic, every dungeon is identical, and your interaction with them consists of literally tapping the “Search” button and then getting some number of diamonds. There’s no trap. The resident lich, or dragon, or goblins, or whatever are never actually home. You can’t be hurt or even lose any money, much less one of your carts or equally invincible mercenary guards. Dungeons in 16-bit Trader are all reward and no risk.
Tips also seem like a good idea at first. Because supply and demand are unrelated, it can be very hard to choose where to go intelligently if you’re not on a quest. The more expensive, higher-profit-margin goods which unlock later in the game are only bought and sold in the world’s twelve castles, rather than the more numerous towns, so that provides some guidance, but the ability to spend some money to get a line on a good price would help tremendously. Tips do that, but in the most egregious case of video game logic I can remember, buying the drink and getting the tip actually creates the good price, which will persist until you visit the town. Depart, and the price instantly returns to normal. Especially in the late game, these tips are tremendously valuable, which continually brings to your attention the fact that such prices are never available anywhere unless you buy someone a drink.
Just to illustrate the laziness of this mechanic, there are only twelve taverns in the game, each with three inhabitants, yet their names and images are frequently reused in different cities. The developers couldn’t be bothered to think up 36 different names (or any female ones).
The dialog is poorly edited, bugs are common, crashes slightly less so, there’s no indication of which cities are ports (and therefore connected by sea routes), and the map doesn’t seem designed with any particular gameplay goals in mind. Finally, everything is excruciatingly slow–for a long time, profits are low, and moving requires far too many taps because everything is confirmed and there’s no way to avoid stopping at each town along the way. 16-bit Trader may have had some promise as a casual economic game with its eye-catching graphics and devil-may-care humor, but I doubt it’s worth anyone’s time as it is.
The game was played on the iPad 2 for this review.