Monday 22 November 2021

Arcade Tycoon Review (Steam)


Written by Thomas Sharpe

During a hot summer, somewhere in Normandy, and in a water park I was electrocuted by a pinball machine. Amidst rickety flumes and gravel pathways that pricked your feet, an attendant shrugged this off stating to my parents that I should have been wearing Wellington boots. Perhaps this was some sort of Napoleonic call-back; that I was vulnerable without the plastic namesakes, or perhaps the attendant honestly did not care about health and safety that much. Either way, I was brought back, like Proust, to this moment in a quiet corner of France, by Arcade Tycoon.

Nostalgia is the name of the game with this title. It is a kind-hearted reminiscence of arcades of pop-culture. I have no such memories of the sort of arcades this game is trying to engage. These are the arcades of America, with John Hughes and ‘80s stuff. Kids leaning against cabinets and Space Invaders and those sit-down two-person Pac-Man tables with their bleary glass. What we get in Arcade Tycoon is this, with the game structure probably widely received as Theme Hospital, but I was far more reminded of violent pizzeria simulator Pizza Tycoon.

The game looks good, and obvious love has been poured by the small team into the cheerful aesthetics that you can populate your arcade. In a well-structured tutorial, you can get to grips with the basics (placing cabinets, managing power, hiring staff, upgrades, amenities, and so on) and then you’re let out into other locations, each with their own challenges. There are few surprises in the fundamentals; buy some cabinets and manage how much they cost; place down some vending machines to keep people refreshed; hire some staff to fix stuff, and a Roomba cleaning robot thing to funnel up trash. Customers come in, hang out, drop litter, play games, and give you their cash and feedback on what sucks and what un-sucks. Paint the walls, place up decals that sort of look like things from famous games, but don’t because copyright probably. I recommend the skeleton decorations.

This side of Arcade Tycoon is functional and mildly fun, but sadly, the surrounding management part (i.e., the Tycoon bit), I felt, was unbalanced and clunky. The user-interface is the first thing that got on my goat, as it looks the part, but is lacking in clarity and sense. From the way windows block others to symbols and organisation, it just felt a bit like an obstacle after a while. Further, there is a system of upgrading and unlocking new options for developing your arcade. You gain stars as a secondary currency by accepting and completing challenges that appear on a list, and these stars can be spent on upgrades. The upside of this is that the challenges can sometimes be fun and push you to do interesting things with your arcade. Other times, it requires you to undo your hard work and undermine your efforts. I can see the crazy appeal of this, and maybe I play far too much of much more po-faced serious management games, but I just didn’t want to work against myself to get much needed upgrades.

Despite there being a vast array of assets, the visual style is busy. Be prepared for your eyes to be bombarded with authentically jarring art. Personally, I liked it, but I do think there could be a few more types of customers. Feels like the clone farm sometimes.

I really wanted to like this more than I did, as I believe it is created from a fun and cheerful place, but the management aspects were all over the shop. The world, however much it is somewhere I’d like to spend more time in, reflects little sense back out to me, and so I got little from it to scratch a fun-casual management game itch.

Overall 5/10

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