Review: Tropico19 Dec 2018 0
Released 18 Dec 2018
Out of all the simulation games on the market that have been given mobile adaptations, Kalypso Media's tongue-in-cheek Tropico seems to be the one players have been clamouring for the most. It's finally available on the App Store (for iPad users only), thanks to PC-to-iOS masters Feral Interactive, and the construction and management simulator feels just as over-the-top and joyous as it did when it first sprang onto the scene.
Step onto a gorgeous plot of land on one of several small Caribbean islands as you come into power over your newly-adopted citizens. Your main goal in Tropico is to remain in power as the all-powerful 'El Presidente.' This can be accomplished in several different ways, most of which involve building structures like clinics, pubs, police stations, casinos, churches, and a whole set of other locations your citizens will need.
Then, you need to serve up edicts through which you'll control and appease your citizens and those culpable for keeping you afloat. For instance, you can beg the United States to help you with foreign aid if you find yourself in a pickle, or raise rents when you decide you've been too easy on the people, money-wise. These Edicts are extremely important in terms of how the game plays out and are important to keep an eye out.
Most of your time, however, will be spent trying to figure out how to make money. You're nothing without your cash reserves, at least not really, and as such you need to figure out ways to manufacture items, attract tourists, or sell cash crops so you can start rolling in the dough. When you have those things in place, you need to focus on your people, the true heart of Tropico.
You can learn a lot about the citizens of Tropico by checking your Almanac, which contains all the information you need to keep quick tabs on the populace. Names, relationships, education, political ideology, and more can be found here. From here, you need to decide where you're going to employ your citizens, what they'll do on a day-to-day basis, and how you'll keep them happy.
You'll need to take care of their needs, like sleeping, going to religious services, staying healthy by visiting the doctor, and enjoying themselves with fun night club shows and stuffing themselves with food. If you can't keep them happy, you'll find yourself being protested against, see your citizens taking part in uprisings against you, or simply voting against you. There's so much to keep track of that it can seem overwhelming, between the multifaceted Edicts, construction, keeping your people happy and safe, and figuring out how best to rule your island. Luckily, the game does a great job of giving you plenty of reading material to explain it all, with nuanced tutorials and explanations that make things very clear when you need assistance.
Tropico's mobile iteration is a premium game (it's $11.99) but there aren't any microtransactions to concern yourself with. You simply need only pay once, and all features are unlocked at the onset. There are plenty of them, too. You can start with a regular Tutorial or an Advanced Tutorial to get your bearings, tackle the Campaign, or play around in Sandbox mode. Campaign Mode finds you completing missions and unlocking new islands as you go, where Sandbox mode gives you the freedom to explore anywhere at the onset while playing around as you see fit.
There are 15 islands to unlock Campaign mode, starting with St. Helena and the modest goal of exporting 8,000 units of bananas. There's a variety of different avatars to choose from as well, from Fidel Castro or Che Guevara to some ridiculous characters, like 'Voodoo Pizzaman' or 'El Pollo Diablo', an obvious nod to Breaking Bad's Walter White, otherwise known as Heisenberg.
If none of these characters strike your fancy, you can always create your own with a fairly rudimentary avatar editor. Customizing their looks doesn't give you many options, but you do get a chance at naming your character, choosing a background and qualities, and other important traits that will ultimately shape your game. It's a nice addition to the roster that lets you make Tropico feel truly 'yours', and players will no doubt want to take advantage of it.
Your background and traits will give you advantages and disadvantages in-game. If you come from a privileged background, you'll have a leg up in terms of industry. If one of your traits happens to indicate you were brought into power by the CIA (a real one that can be selected) you won't have many expectations foisted upon you by the people. There are a wide range of traits that offer multipliers and point bonuses, all of which you'll have to keep an eye on if you want to truly succeed and remain in power. Selecting one of the 18 built-in characters ensures you'll have an eclectic mix of personalities, but creating your own avatar can bring challenges as well. This is part of what gives the game such a satisfying amount of replay value.
Of course, the challenge when it comes to bringing PC-centric strategy titles to mobile devices always lies within the user interface. Without a keyboard and mouse to navigate, it can become a cumbersome waltz to pinch and zoom to inspect elements of the screen, place structures, or even inspect what's going on in your "kingdom" of sorts.
Tropico on iPad has been given a specially redesigned interface specifically for play on mobile devices in an effort to combat these issues. While it doesn't reinvent the wheel in terms of alternate control schemes, it's serviceable enough that it doesn't detract from the overall experience in any way. It's still a bit cumbersome to try and navigate large areas of the map via pinching and dragging, but the interface overall is one that's been improved to the best of the staff's ability. It's just not a game that's truly meant to be played on mobile, so some sacrifices understandably have to be made – you don't have a mouse for those precise movements here.
Feral Interactive brought what it calls the 'Dictator's Desk' to the game, or a bar where you can quickly access your most important in-game commands such as Intel, your Avatar, a list of Edicts, Overlays, Construction projects, and your Almanac. It's all quite attractive, resembling a nice cherry desktop with attractive icons that look less like a taskbar and more like someone's messy office. It gives the whole thing a nice, homey feel even though you're an all-powerful dictator. The UI is fantastic, and the bar is a great addition to the game – it’s the map navigation that’s finicky, but as previously stated, that’s something to be expected when it comes to games like these on mobile.
In terms of controlling things on a larger screen, Tropico is also making its way to iPhone in 2019, but there's no word just yet on which models will end up supporting it. Given the iPad's requirements (iPad 5th and 6th generation, iPad Pro 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations) it's safe to say it'll require plenty of processing power. But this is a game you'll want to stick to on iPad, where you have the extra screen real estate.
With Tropico 6 headed for release next year, this port is a great way to experience where it all began (for the modern games, at least), especially since it's such an accessible way to play the game without fussing with a PC or getting it to run smoothly. It looks great, plays well, and it's got everything you remember from the original and then some. Ready to take on the role of El Presidente? Your people are waiting.